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Fanfare Magazine: 38:5 (05-06/2015) 
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Reviewer: Daniel Morrison

Pièces de clavecin en concerts, Rameau’s only composition for chamber ensemble, is scored for harpsichord, flute or violin, and viola da gamba or a second violin. As the title suggests, the harpsichord is intended to be the dominant instrument, with the others in a subsidiary role. The composer even stipulated that the work could be performed on the harpsichord alone, to no great disadvantage, although he also took the trouble to prepare transcriptions of several of the movements for solo harpsichord. Most of the available recordings use the violin alternative instead of the flute or are performed on the harpsichord alone, so direct competition for this new release is limited. In Fanfare 37:4 I faulted one such competitor, on the Paraty label, for a balance that positioned the harpsichord too much in the background and for sometimes scrappy and abrasive string playing. I recommended instead an older Accent recording by harpsichordist Robert Kohnen, with Barthold, Sigiswald, and Wieland Kuijken on flute, violin, and viola da gamba respectively.

In this new recording by the Spanish ensemble La Reverencia, consisting of harpsichordist Andrés Alberto Gómez, flutist José Fernández Vera, violinist Pavel Amilcar, and gambist Sara Ruiz, the harpsichord is not as prominent as on the Accent recording, and not as prominent as I would prefer, but it is always in the picture. Like other ensembles employing a flute, La Reverencia also includes a violin as an alternate treble instrument, but the flute is a more constant presence in its recording than in the other two mentioned. The instrument is absent in only two movements in the La Reverencia recording but in half the movements in that of the Kohnen-Kuijken ensemble. On the other hand, the La Reverencia flutist often shares the treble part with the violin within movements, which seldom occurs in the Kohnen-Kuijken rendition. The La Reverencia string players are more accomplished than those on the Paraty disc, but the sounds they produce are not always as euphonious as those of Sigiswald and Wieland Kuijken and can sometimes be shrill, nasal, or otherwise abrasive. This effect may be partially due to recorded sound that is more open, spacious, and detailed than that of the older Accent disc, but very bright and perhaps overly aggressive in the treble. La Reverencia’s flutist, however, plays eloquently, with consistently beautiful tone.

The Kohnen-Kuijken team favors an approach that is strict, formal, and tightly controlled, with steady tempos, firm rhythm, regular accents, and incisive, distinct phrasing. La Reverencia’s performances are more flexible and flowing, with greater rhythmic freedom and with vertical stresses that are more selectively applied. Its renditions sometimes seem livelier or more expressive. But some movements, such as the Tambourins from the Third Concert and “La Forqueray” from the Fifth, benefit from the Kohnen-Kuijken ensemble’s rhythmic discipline. In “La pantomime,” too, the prancing rhythm is better defined by Kohnen and the Kuijkens, and their rendition of “La Rameau” has greater energy. I also prefer their less driven pace and clearer articulation in “L’indiscrète” and their quicker tempo, greater tension, and stronger rhythmic pulse in “La Cupis.”

Those who wish to peruse harpsichordist Gómez’s notes for the new release will need a reading knowledge of Spanish or French, the only languages in which they are offered.

There are pleasures to be had from the La Reverencia performance, but the Kohnen-Kuijken disc remains the best choice for a recording of this work using the flute. Non-flute recommendations include recordings by Christophe Rousset, Ryo Terakado, and Kaori Uemura (Harmonia Mundi), by Trevor Pinnock, Rachel Podger, and Jonathan Manson (Channel), and by Trio Sonnerie (Virgin, available from ArkivMusic). The Rousset recording is very inexpensive and includes a bonus in the form of harpsichord-only versions of four of the movements in addition to the concerted versions.


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