Hyperion Records

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

'Rameau: Keyboard Suites' (CDA67597)
Rameau: Keyboard Suites
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67597 
Movement 1: Allemande
Movement 2: Courante
Movement 3: Sarabande
Movement 4: Les trois mains
Movement 5: Fanfarinette
Movement 6: La triomphante
Movement 7a: Gavotte
Movement 7b: Double 1
Movement 7c: Double 2
Movement 7d: Double 3
Movement 7e: Double 4
Movement 7f: Double 5
Movement 7g: Double 6

Suite in A minor
For the Suite in A minor, Rameau uses the traditional opening dances of Allemande, Courante and Sarabande, but there is nothing standard about his treatment of them. Right from the start, he sets a tone of noble grandeur, only briefly relieved at the end of each section of the Allemande where a toccata-like figure is introduced for a few bars. The writing is much more contrapuntal than in the earlier E minor Suite, the interpretation far more challenging. I think Girdlestone is right to devote so much attention to the Courante, which he calls ‘one of the summits of Rameau’s art’. It is one of his most difficult pieces to comprehend and to play, not just because of its rich counterpoint and rhythmic complexities (the jeu inégal must be used judiciously and with freedom but within a strict frame), but because the execution of the ornaments also requires tremendous skill. Even after you have figured all that out, you still have to make music. As Girdlestone says: ‘The door has to be knocked on more than once before it will open, but of the riches within there is no doubt and the effort is worthwhile.’ The solemn Sarabande is also richly ornamented, with swirling, written-out arpeggios that heighten the tension. It was reused more than twenty years later in his lyric tragedy Zoroastre.

In the next piece, Les trois mains, Rameau gives the illusion of there being three hands by having the left one constantly cross over the right, providing at the beginning a criss-cross accompaniment to the tender melody; the music becomes more sprightly later on, foreshadowing Scarlatti. Next come two contrasting character pieces: the first, Fanfarinette (a female nickname), must depict someone of great charm—carefree and flirtatious. The second, La triomphante, is exactly that.

The final Gavotte with its six variations closes this suite in a magnificent fashion. The theme, contrary to expectation, is not fast (Rameau tells us so in his preface), but the variations build in momentum to a virtuoso conclusion. Running scales in both hands are then taken up by the middle voice in more complicated figurations. The fourth double reminds me of Variation 23 in Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ which weren’t written for another fourteen years. The hands stab at each other, at first in single notes, but then in thirds and chords, often in the same register on the keyboard (made more difficult on the piano where there is only one, not two). The last two variations show off each hand in turn and demand great stamina and brilliance. While the left hand leaps with joy, the right displays the theme in all its glory.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2007

Track-specific metadata
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Details for SACDA67597 track 22
Movement 5: Fanfarinette
Recording date
4 June 2006
Recording venue
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Recording producer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Recording engineer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Hyperion usage
  1. Rameau: Keyboard Suites (CDA67597)
    Disc 1 Track 22
    Release date: January 2007
  2. Rameau: Keyboard Suites (SACDA67597)
    Disc 1 Track 22
    Release date: January 2007
    Deletion date: November 2008
    Super-Audio CD — Deleted
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