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Rameau – In Convertendo

Les Arts Florissants

Musical Director – William Christie

Nicolas Rivenq; Sophie Daneman; Jeffrey Thompson; Olga Pitarch

Recorded at Saint Louis des Invalides, Paris , 2004
TV Director – Thomas Grimm


Trois Pieces de Clavecin en concert: La Popliniere; La Timide; La Rameau

Beatrice Martin – harpsichord; Patrick Cohen-Akenine – violin; Nima Ben David – viola da gamba; Serge Saitta - flute


Opus Arte OA 0956 D - 1 DVD – 97 minutes


A few words of caution to begin with: most of this DVD is devoted to a documentary film entitled “The Real Rameau”, the musical performances contribute less than 40 minutes!


These pieces all date from his mature years when he enjoyed the patronage of General De la Poupliniere. For many years he earned his living as a church organist, whose duties would have included the setting of psalms and motets as the liturgical seasons required, and filled his remaining time exploring the theory and development of musical harmony, turning out many learned treatises and illustrating them with works for the harpsichord.

Rameau is best known as a writer of operas, effervescent late creations in which innovative, biting satire is interwoven with irresistible dance melodies. His story is well portrayed in the documentary, with generous clips from staged performances of his operas and comments from William Christie and the musical historian Sylvie Bouissou (somewhat disjointed as edited). It makes a good introduction to the music that is the “meat” of this recording.


Although Rameau must have composed a considerable volume of church music, only a handful of pieces have survived, and these are only rarely performed. In Convertendo is a relatively ambitious piece, comprising 7 movements alternating solos, duets and chorus. The mood is outwardly sombre, as the texts are drawn from the passiontide canon, but ebullience surfaces at every opportunity, for example in the Magnificavit Dominus. The two most striking movements are the first, In Convertendo , a fervent solo for counter-tenor and the grand finale Euntes ibant et flebant where the sections of the chorus are interwoven with great beauty and complexity.


The performance is all one could hope for and expect from as polished an ensemble as Les Arts Florissants. It's filmed in a period chapel, with candelabra placed discreetly in the background, and the TV director intersperses shots of the stained glass and vaulting with close-ups of performers, in a style that will be familiar to viewers of “Songs of Praise”. The subtitles translate only the first verse of each psalm, which is really inadequate. If nothing else, space should have been found in the lavishly illustrated accompanying booklet for full latin text and translations; the biographical notes on the composer supplied are largely duplicated in the documentary film.


The three instrumental pieces give us a brief taste of the other important section of Rameau's output. I found the presentation rather “stagey” and the placing of the instruments seemed to inhibit the interaction between the soloists that usually makes performances of chamber so exciting.


I welcome these performances of pieces which are not widely known, but would willingly sacrifice the pictures for the extra music that could have been accommodated on a normal length CD.


© Serena Fenwick


For the theatrical Rameau see Les Indes Galantes, which carries further links to other Rameau opera reviewed on Musical Pointers [Editor]