RAMEAU: Les Indes Galantes – Suite de ballet – Christophe Rousset – Ambroisie HANDEL: Harpsichord Suites – Jory Vinikour – Delos (2 CDs)

by | Feb 21, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

RAMEAU: Les Indes Galantes (1735) – Suite de ballet, transcription for harpsichord – Christophe Rousset – Ambroisie A152, 63 mins. [Distr. by Naxos] *****: 
HANDEL: Harpsichord Suites (1720) – Jory Vinikour – Delos DE 3394 (2 CDs) TT: 1:27:47 [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 
In his notes Rousset writes, “When Rameau published Les Indes galantes, he wrote in his preface that you could play all the instrumental pieces on harpsichord. He didn’t prepare proper transcriptions for harpsichord, but he used the same ornaments as in his other books for harpsichord. By providing a bit more structure, you can create a fourth book of Pièces de clavecin, a collection of really fantastic harpsichord pieces. Strangely enough, not all of the instrumental pieces are playable on harpsichord, but I’ve tried to record everything in the book by adapting anything that was not playable on the keyboard. It all sounds very good and I’m very excited about this project. The final piece is a big Chaconne. Rameau never wrote a Chaconne for solo harpsichord–though Couperin did–and it’s nice to be able to add one by Rameau to the repertoire.”
Rousset plays an original two-manual instrument that remains in virtually its original state. It has a compass of 61 notes, a coupler and three registers allowing for a varied tonal palette. The sound is solid and crystal clear, with an attractive laugh in the upper middle range. The effect is best in the grand or fast pieces, most of the second suite, for example; the quiet lyrical things need the warmth of a voice.
From the first note, you can tell this is going to be serious Handel, in the style royal, full of power and radiant grace. And so it is. But although it has all the framework and anticipation that would lead you to believe that it will be Handel on the piano, instead it turns out to on a copy of a 1739 harpsichord built in Dresden by Heinrich Gräbner, which, the liner notes claim, has “an extended bass and corresponding richness of timbre.” It’s all of that, and much more. Even the decaying silences at the ends of each Suite have a color and affective emotional tone. In addition to providing an idea of the impact Landowska might have had on her heavy-duty Pleyel so-called- harpsichord 100 years ago, Vinikour concludes with “a special version” of the famous Chaconne in G Major, which turns out to be just the most familiar and least authentic version (i.e., no big deal).
The splendid imposing instrument is the deal, and gets lots of attention and detail in the notes. The builder was John Philips, and it is at the instrument museum at Schloss Pillnitz. It is no shrinking violet. The sound is very grand, warm and highly polished. And it turns out to be authentic.
—Laurence Vittes