Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Faraway Places

I have just posted the program for Christophe Rousset’s April 9 concert. I was struggling with the word “exotic” in the title (“Exoticism on the Harpsichord”) until I looked the word up:

Being or from or characteristic of another place or part of the world. Strikingly strange or unusual.

In that sense, the titles of the pieces from my very favorite three French composers are suddenly relevant, evoking faraway places, perhaps drums beating in distance, and … well, the imagination runs wild. Just consider a few of these:

  • Les Chinois (the Chinese)
  • Les Sauvages (the Savages)
  • L’Egyptienne (the Egyptian)
  • Air pour les esclaves affricains (Air for African slaves)
  • Air grave pour les Incas du Pérou (Serious air for the Incas of Peru)
  • Zaïde (Queen Zaïde in the Alhambra has to decide between the love of two rival Moorish princes)

Heavens: this isn’t just a concert, it is a National Geographic expedition! I know all of the pieces on this program intimately—all from Rousset recordings. It is hard for me to think of these as “exotic,” but the world was a much larger and mysterious place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

If you already love the French baroque harpsichord repertoire, I can only assume you will attend this smorgasbord of delights. If you aren’t sure that you know or love this music, there is absolutely no better selection to serve as an introduction. Performed by the iconic musician of this repertoire.

Don’t miss the April 9 concert at the Auditorium at TSRI. I can think of no better acoustics for the harpsichord, and every seat is excellent. For details and to order tickets, visit the SDEMS website.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Dancing Duphly

Jacques Duphly (1715–1789) was one of the very late composers for the French harpsichord. Indeed, by the end of the eighteenth century, I’m not sure the harpsichord was hanging on anywhere else, except as a relic; the fortepiano was rapidly eclipsing it. I found a wonderful timeline for 200 years of French harpsichordists on Wikipedia that helps demonstrate where Duphly fits in. Duphly’s music is tuneful, energetic, and charming; it would be one of my first choices to introduce a newcomer to the instrument. Yet, there has been a dearth of good recordings, especially in the last decade.

I was fortunate to get an early listen to Christoph Rousset’s latest CD, brought from France courtesy of the SDEMS “French Connection.” I couldn’t wait to get my own copy, and it is now generally available in the US. In almost every way it is a stunning recording that uncovers the delights or this often overlooked composer and reveals the best of Rousset: the ebullient energy of his youthful recordings with what I can only describe as a laser-like focus on the nuance and details of a more seasoned master.

France produces many talented harpsichordists, (many of whom have performed in San Diego). I think I find Rousset the most unique in style, and he is second to none in technique. He takes his own tempi, many of them quite brisk. He doesn’t wallow in sentimentality, which is not to say that he is cold. Rather, I think he is a slave to dance and I have found all of his more recent recordings, such as his latest Froberger, are revelations because he maintains a dance-like pulse while introducing every subtlety of articulation and agogic accents the harpsichord can offer. If you know the music well, you will savor Rousset’s command of the very French notes inégales

Also stunning is the instrument itself, an instrument by Christian Kroll that was built in 1779 and found entirely in its original state. This is a very late instrument, with a big and refined sound, perfect for Duphly’s music. My one complaint with the recording is its sound: the ambient noise is a low roar throughout the recording. I’m sure this is due as much to the recording location as the placement of the microphones:la Galerie dorée de la Banque de France, obviously a large and resonant room. This is not distracting when played in a room at moderate levels, but it is quite obvious with headphones and it reduces the clarity of the sound. I wouldn’t let this discourage you from running out and buying this 2-CD set.

Christoph Rousset will make his West Coast debut April 9 at the superb TSRI auditorium, easily the best venue for a solo harpsichord recital in San Diego. If you don’t already have tickets, order them online now; people will be traveling from far and wide for this event.