RAMEAU Pièces de Clavecin
The stream of keyboard tributes to Rameau’s 250th anniversary last year continues with Bertrand Cuiller’s two-disc set for Mirare. His previous solo recordings include the Scarlatti Essercizi and the Tomkins Lessons of Worth (2/12) as well as the Bach harpsichord concerts with the Stradivaria Ensemble (9/09). This particular recording stems from his current residency at the Fondation Royaumont. He performs on an instrument by Philippe Humeau that produces a lovely clear, resonant sound in the Cistercian Abbey there.
What strikes the listener first is the ease and fluency with which Cuiller plays. His command of legato on the harpsichord is exceptional, and to it must be added rubato and inégalité. His tempi are generally moderate, allowing him a certain freedom to explore the inner phrasing of sections within pieces. His instinct in this matter is finely calibrated and sure. His command of ornamentation, written and improvised, is equally impressive. Only two small disappointments, then: the awkwardly phrased triplets at the end of each section of the opening Allemande (disc 2, tr 1) and the tepid bass notes in the passages of left-hand crossing in ‘Les trois mains’ (tr 4) of the Nouvelle Suites.
My previous survey praised Mahan Esfahani’s recording in particular (Hyperion, 12/14), so it seems appropriate to compare it with that of Cuiller. The listener is immediately aware of the rather more domestic acoustic of Hatchlands, where Esfahani recorded, and the mellower tone of the lovely old Ruckers. Putting that aside, Esfahani draws from his instrument a richer – almost orchestral – variety of sound through his skilful use of manuals and coupling, not least in the character pieces such as ‘Le rappel des oiseaux’ and ‘La poule’. Set against Esfahani’s tempi, Cuiller’s often seem too slow (for example in ‘L’entretien des Muses’ and ‘Les Tourbillons’, disc 1, trs 23 and 24), however thoughtfully he expresses the music; but while Esfahani consistently delivers confident, undeniably stylish and compelling performances, Cuiller’s remarkable legato and attention to expressive detail make this refreshing new interpretation of Rameau’s keyboard works definitely worth acquiring.