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Hyperion Records

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The Music Lesson by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Louvre, Paris / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67597
Recording details: June 2006
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: January 2007
Total duration: 28 minutes 21 seconds

'She is, of course, a master pianist with the kind of refined finger technique and musical sensibility that can bring to Baroque music all the clarity of line and texture it needs … there is some wonderfully tender music-making' (Gramophone)

'There is something about Angela Hewitt's playing of these three substantial suites which leaves the listener entirely convinced that the piano is as capable as any early 18th-century instrument of realising Rameau's intentions. Indeed, in less extrovert descriptive pieces such as the G minor Suite's gently melancholy Les Triolets, it enhances the music's tender expressiveness without sounding at all anachronistic. On the other hand, the crispness and clarity of Hewitt's tone, the sensitivity of her touch and the exquisite precision of her ornaments mean that the clucking hen in La Poule, and the gloriously spontaneous-sounding efflorescence of birdsong in Le Rappel des oiseaux (from the G minor and E minor Suites respectively) are as characterful as any connoisseur of Baroque keyboard playing could wish for. Dance movements are equally well served, from the nobility and grandeur of the A minor Suite's Courante with its sonorous spread chords, to the E minor's charming pair of lyrical rather than sprightly Gigues. Every piece is the epitome of Parisian elegance' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This release has come as something of a revelation … Hewitt's digital dexterity is by now very well known. What is interesting here is the way in which she deploys her fingers (and her musicianship) in the service of Rameau's particular idiom … after listening to this disc, I almost couldn't believe I had experienced what it contains. I felt like keeping the music, and Hewitt's performances, in my mind and ear, while also wanting to recapture them in physical sound' (International Record Review)

'Hewitt clearly relishes the colour and rhythmic energy of these dance sequences; her performances have a wonderfully fluid stylishness, with scrupulous ornamentation that never seems self-consciously correct, and they are founded upon a willingness to use the full tonal resources of a modern concert grand in a way that seems to make utterly irrelevant any question of what is historically or musicologically 'correct' in playing this music' (The Guardian)

'Hewitt, performing on a favoured Fazioli piano, is on top form in these three keyboard suites by Rameau … speeds are steady, rhythms crisp and real singing tunes emerge from the harmonic weft … this interpretative level is maintained throughout the CD. The year is off to a flyer' (The Times)

'This magnificent disc of three of his immensely attractive keyboard suites should help to enlighten us. Angela Hewitt responds to them with a combination of directness and delicacy that is irresistible. Rhythms are vital, rubato is subtle, yet never draws attention to itself, the abundant ornamentation flowers with brilliant naturalness, and her masterly touch persuades you that the piano is the perfect instrument to realise Rameau’s richly coloured music' (The Sunday Times)

'Although she is using a modern piano here, Hewitt has such a light touch to her interpretation that one never loses the sense of the delicacy of the original instrument … Hewitt's technique is impeccable throughout and her musical taste is as delightful as one expect from Gramophone's 2006 Artist of the Year' (HMV Choice)

'I was quite taken aback by the sheer beauty of Angela Hewitt's new CD of three of his harpsichord suites, played on a magnificent Fazioli piano … I gained sheer pleasure from listening to this Hyperion release—beautiful sound and beautiful music' (Liverpool Daily Post)

'The duelling bird chirrups of Le rappel des oiseaux … are carried off splendidly, as is La Poule … moreover, where in such pieces the punishing finger gymnastics of Rameau's ornamentations and trills can so easily descend into a typewriterish rattle, here they sparkle with energy and easy agility. Hewitt often draws a vibrant, remarkably harpsichord-like sound from her instrument…she is always an impressive pianist and this disc is a welcome addition to the meagre Rameau catalogue' (Pianist)

'Few things sound quite as lovely as baroque keyboard music played on the modern piano, particular when the music is as exquisite as Rameau's and the pianist as exquisite as Angela Hewitt. Having already released several spectacular performances of Bach's keyboard masterworks, she now turns her attention to the music of 18th-century France's premier keyboard composer, with similarly ravishing results. Essential' (CD Hotlist, USA)

'For Rameau on the piano, Angela Hewitt proves just as gorgeous in her realizations as Tzimon Barto on Ondine, but with a million times the intelligence, stylistic awareness, and taste. Helped by her Fazioli concert grand's bright edge, Hewitt demonstrates that the nooks and crannies of Rameau's ornamentation not only work on the piano but also benefit from the instrument's capacity for dynamic nuances. Hewitt's varied articulation and tonal shading arise from the music's dance origins and are never 'pianistic' for their own sake. Sometimes Hewitt may taper a phrase to slightly precious effect or time a cadence with just a smidgen of archness, but her glorious rhythmic sense and crisply centered trills and mordents offer vivid compensation … all told, this is the finest Rameau piano disc since Marcelle Meyer's classic 1953 cycle, and I look forward to more. As usual, Hewitt's annotations are well researched and reader-friendly, while Hyperion's engineering is vivid and detailed' (ClassicsToday.com)

'There is a gleam to Angela Hewitt's sound that takes up Rameau's keyboard pieces, perhaps the ultimate harpsichord music, and sells them with considerable noble persuasiveness on the modern piano … Ms Hewitt delights in this music's energy, and her love of its peacock displays of flourish and ornament are nearly irresistible … like her Bach, her Rameau recordings demonstrate a fastidious heeding of the composer’s intent, with meticulous ornamentation and articulation' (The New York Times)

'She is undoubtedly a master pianist, gifted with a natural refined finger technique and musical sensibility that can bring to the baroque style, the clarity of texture and line it needs to make it sound opulently embellished. In these renditions, she admirably harnesses all the ornamentations, and none are shirked. Her contrapuntal understanding is never amiss, and where warranted, she plays with a tenderness that is almost beyond fragility' (Classical.net)

'This attractive programme … shares the qualities that have made her such an acclaimed interpreter of music of that period, although she has proved equally perceptive in later repertoire … she plays a piano rather than the harpsichord for which the music was originally written, but succeeds in conveying the authentic feel and much of the intricate ornamentation of the music … her insightful understanding of the music combines with a characteristically elegant but energised touch at the keyboard in compelling fashion' (The Inverness Courier)

'La saine musicalité d'Angela Hewitt nous enchante. Ce discours lumineux, ce toucher liquide, cette humilité sans mollesse devant le texte, ce soin maniaque dans l'exécution d'ornements toujours périlleux au piano, dénotent une intimité non feinte … cette pianiste accomplie sait son métier et le pratique avec honnêteté. Les couleurs sont jolies et une certaine profondeur de champ se discerne … Rameau composait avec des sons charnels et des sensations intimes, et non avec de désuets et évanescents effluves' (Diapason, France)

Suite in G minor
composer
Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin, circa 1729/30

L'indifferente  [1'54]
Menuets I & II  [3'31]
La poule  [4'53]
Les triolets  [4'46]
Les sauvages  [1'53]
L'enharmonique  [6'49]
L'egiptienne  [2'46]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The first few pieces in the Suite in G minor are innocent enough. Les tricotets was a popular dance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and a favourite of Henri IV. Presumably the quick movements of the feet, involving both heels and toes, were meant to resemble the nimbleness of knitters (‘tricoter’ means ‘to knit’). The alternation of two and three beats to the bar immediately reminds us of the minuet in Bach’s Fifth Partita—also in G major. L’indifferente (‘The casual lover’) is a minuet, and was a popular title for a character piece (as well as the title of a painting by Watteau, painted some eleven years before this piece was composed). Of the two graceful Menuets that follow, one in the major, one in the minor, the first reappears nine years later in his lyric tragedy Castor et Pollux.

Then comes one of Rameau’s masterpieces, La poule, with the obsessive clucking of the hen (Rameau writes ‘co co co co co coco dai’ under the opening notes). It is pure drama, and, as Cuthbert Girdlestone wrote in his 1957 biography of the composer, ‘has the intensity and singlemindedness of a Racine tragedy, with alternations of hope and despair’. Rameau marks these contrasts with the words fort et doux. It is possible that the first sketches for this piece go back to his early days in Paris when the Jesuit Père Castel discussed with him the bird songs noted in the writings of Athanasius Kircher (1650) and aroused his feelings for depicting nature. The five repeated notes of the theme become hammered-out chords in the right hand towards the end, with the arpeggios transferred to the bass. Observing all of Rameau’s ornamentation requires some quick fingerwork.

The next movement of the suite, Les triolets, calms us down with its poetic melancholy and tenderness. Rameau states in his preface to this collection that it should not be taken fast. It ends with a ‘petite reprise’—a written-out echo of the last few bars. A triolet was a medieval verse form that became popular again in the seventeenth century.

On 10 September 1725 Rameau attended a performance by two Louisiana Indians at one of the theatres of the Fair. Their dancing must have made an impression on him, because he characterized them in the next piece, Les sauvages. As a Canadian I can’t help imagining the colourful displays of our Canadian native people, especially when playing the descending repeated notes of the theme. It became one of Rameau’s most popular works, and he later included it in his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes.

The last two pieces of the suite are also gems. Rameau talks at great length of L’enharmonique in the preface to this collection. An enharmonic change is when, for example, a C sharp becomes a D flat (on the keyboard the same note), which indeed happens in the twelfth bar of the second section. An expressive pause marks the point which, to listeners of Rameau’s day, would have been something quite extraordinary. Rameau states:

The effect experienced in the twelfth bar of the Reprise of the Enharmonique may not perhaps be to everyone’s taste right away; one can nonetheless grow accustomed to it after a little application, and even grow to awareness of all its beauty once the initial aversion, which in this case might result from lack of familiarity, has been overcome. The harmony which creates this effect has by no means been thrown in haphazardly; it is based on logic and has the sanction of Nature herself …

The mood is one of a lament, with poignant chromaticisms and a few contrasting bars where, to alternate with gracieusement (‘gracefully’) Rameau writes hardiment, sans altérer la mesure (‘boldly, without altering the tempo’).

The final movement, L’egiptienne, is inspired by the dance of a gypsy girl, and brings the suite to a brilliant conclusion. In his preface Rameau sensibly warns us not to take the fast pieces too fast, but rather to be more intent upon capturing their correct character. That seems especially apt in the case of this piece.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2007

Other albums featuring this work
'Rameau: Keyboard Suites' (SACDA67597)
Rameau: Keyboard Suites
This album is not yet available for download SACDA67597  Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
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