Discovering the French Baroque in London

Christophe RoussetThu 16th May 2013

Shedding light on the rarer harpsichord works stemming from the period

I am delighted to be returning to London to begin my residency at the Wigmore Hall with a harpsichord recital on Friday May 31 featuring lesser-known French Baroque works. I love every aspect of the Baroque period. Shortly after I formed my ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, we had the opportunity to create the soundtrack for the 1994 film, Farinelli – about the famous Italian castrato of the 18th century. This was a great excuse to hunt out seldom-heard pieces by many forgotten composers whom Farinelli worked with. My passion for ‘musical archaeology’ has continued to grow following that experience.

The Baroque period in France is closest to my heart. I adore every aspect of that time, especially the music, art, furniture and architecture. I am at my happiest when surrounded by the music of Lully and Rameau and paintings by François Boucher. I wanted to shed some light on the rarer harpsichord works which stem from this period in my upcoming Wigmore Hall recital.

The concert features a selection of Pièces de clavecin by Rameau and his younger contemporaries Jacques Duphly, Claude Balbastre and Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer. They are all ‘character pieces’, which pay homage to important people in Parisian society at the time. Rameau chooses to write character pieces, which are very descriptive – a style which influenced other composers. Royer’s Le Vertigo depicts a horse which is sick with vertigo. The erratic changes of tempo – going fast and slowing down – reflect what a horse does when it is sick. Meanwhile, Duphly’s La Forqueray is a portrait of another harpsichord player. All the works have a very brilliant sound and virtuosic quality inspired by Italian composers like Scarlatti.

While I have recorded many of these works (most recently the four books of Pièces de clavecin by Duphly on the Aparté label), a CD is like a photo of myself - it’s nothing definitive, nothing that I always agree with. It’s an image of what I’ve done the day I’ve made the recording. It’s much more important to come to a live concert. Last month, during a harpsichord tour of the US, I never played a piece the same in all four evenings.

Playing a solo recital is very different to performing with my ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques. Being alone on stage is a very special experience – you feel the audience in your hands and you can shape the sound in the space with every single note. When surrounded by an orchestra, you are more involved with the musicians you are making music with and therefore have a different relationship with the audience.  I don’t prefer one or the other; I love both.

My work with Les Talens Lyriques goes hand in hand with my harpsichord performances. When I play a harpsichord I try to create the impression of an orchestra and when I am conducting my orchestra, I try to find the refinement of harpsichord in the orchestra’s sound. Each is a mirror image of the other. Rameau already had an orchestra in mind when he wrote harpsichord music.

The Wigmore Hall stage is a great platform to showcase the intimacy of this music and I’m thrilled to have a residency with Les Talens Lyriques. It allows me to show different aspects of my work: harpsichord recitals, chamber music, and a Farinelli programme with mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg. These performances are scattered among other exciting projects, including Lully’s Amadis at the Opéra Royal in the Palace of Versailles (July 5) and the Beaune Festival (July 13), plus a series of concerts at the Edinburgh Festival on some of the rare working harpsichords at St Cecilia’s Hall Museum (August 21-13).

Travelling with Les Talens Lyriques is a great joy for me – sharing this wonderful music with audiences around the world. London is so vibrant; I am very much looking forward to returning to the Wigmore Hall this month. I will also be back with Les Talens Lyriques on December 6 to perform two storytelling chamber works by Couperin - L’Apothéose de Corelli and L’Apothéose de Lully.

Christophe Rousset performs Rameau, Duphly, Balbastre and Royer at the Wigmore Hall on Friday May 31.

Christophe Rousset's picture

Christophe Rousset

Founder of the period instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset is a musician and conductor specialising in Baroque and Classical repertoire. Particularly inspired by European music of the 17th and 18th centuries, Rousset has rediscovered forgotten operas such as Antigona by Traetta, Armida Abbandonata by Jommelli and La Grotta di Trofonio by Salieri. His many recordings include the complete harpsichord works of François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, d’Anglebert and Forqueray. With his award-winning ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, his great successes on disc include Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Mozart’s Mitridate, Persée and Roland by Lully.

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