RAMEAU: Pieces de clavecin en concerts; Orphee; L’impatience – Frank Kelley, tenor/ Boston Museum Trio – Centaur 2979, 75:30 **** [Distrib. by Naxos]:
Rameau, like Handel, enjoyed great success in his musical life. He was born in Dijon to a hereditary family of organists, studied in Italy briefly, and came back to the south of France when he discovered he had no taste for Italian culture—at all. Many of his years were virtually itinerant, with the testy composer—often called “cold and grouchy”—often going to extreme circumstances in order to shift or terminate his employment to seek better things. Only when he arrived in Paris at the age of 40 did some calm descend into his volatile life, allowing him a 22-year stint as conductor of an orchestra, during which tine he completed many of his most famous operas as well as these Pieces de clavecin en concerts in 1741.
This work is his only chamber piece and the various components of the five books that make up the work are intended for those “en concert” i.e. a group setting for harpsichord, violin, viola da gamba, and sometimes a second violin or flute. Rameau is very stringent in his instructions in these pieces, considered to be a small version of his operas. Each work has a title named after either a personage or characteristic of the work. All are original and incessantly creative, marking them as some of the most engaging works of the Baroque.
We also get two cantatas from his last pre-Paris period that show him gearing up for the operatic masterpieces that were to come. Orphee concerns itself only with the hero’s leading of Eurydice back to earth, thereby avoiding a full-fledged comparison with other popular Orphees at the time. Even better is L’impatience, a work whose date may actually be one of two that are 20 years apart, but which has a gracious air about it that so characterizes the French cantata. Frank Kelly sings with wonderful perception and authority on both.
The Boston Museum Trio, whose name is taken from the primary place of their gigs, plays very well indeed with a fine suavity and suitable energy. From what I can tell, in order to offer us such a well-packed disc, they avoid repeats in the Pieces de clavecin en concerts, which doesn’t bother me much at all. My only other favorite in this music has been a 1991 Denon disc with Chiyoko Arita, Natsumi Wakamatsu, Masahiro Arita, and Wieland Kuijken that has sound as good as this one, plays the repeats, but offers only the five concerts and nothing else. There are surprisingly few complete sets of this music currently available—you might be able to find the Denon if you search, and it makes use of a more standard trio sonata ensemble by adding a Baroque flute—but this one is a fine addition to a repertory that needs some more fine additions, and the music is simply spectacular.
— Steven Ritter
In Memoriam… a fine tribute to Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire