Rameau’s oeuvre for harpsichord comprises a mere four dozen pieces from a composing career of nearly six decades so it is not surprising that players have taken to raiding the great tunesmith’s operatic works, citing his transcription of Les Indes Galantes as precedent. The bulk of this recital is Guillermo Brachetta’s transcription for two harpsichords of music from Platée (1745); a scathing satire of fashion and operatic conventions disguised as a comic romp.
Poor Platée is a hideously ugly nymph (a tenor in drag) who resides in a swamp but is quite unaware of her uncomeliness. Heartless Jupiter decides to prove his fidelity to Juno by courting such an unlikely conquest just for the fun of it and leaves Platée broken and humiliated to the cruel amusement of the gods. Rameau’s score satirises Italian opera with bizarre vocal gymnastics and is chock full of musical non sequiturs, onomatopoeic effects (a croaking chorus of frogs), startling orchestration and dozens of good tunes.
You may wonder if all this comes across with the reduced palate of the harpsichord, but such is the quality of harmonic and melodic invention beneath the opera’s glitteringly orchestrated surface, these reductions can stand on their own even if the shock factor is a little dampened. The superbly animated playing carries one along but the duo could have undone a few buttons so the mood is coolly droll rather than raucous jollity. Think of Watteau’s drawings in black, white and red chalk and you’ll get what I mean.
The fillers, Couperin’s La Paix de Parnasse and Gaspard Le Roux’s Suite in F, are delicious. The sound is so vivid you are transported to the recording venue: a Dutch church in spring complete with chirping birds. If you’d like to hear the opera in its full glory, try Minkowski’s 1988 recording – one of my desert island discs.