“Two magicians, two master architects, amongst the most wildly imaginative and brilliant of their era; two composers who also tried to capture echoes of grand theatre with the palette offered by their keyboard.”
Thus does 25-year-old French harpsichord prodigy Jean Rondeau characterise Rameau and the young Turk snapping at his heels, Royer; thus does Rondeau set the stage for a sweetly bellicose suite in which Rameau and Royer wage war across a Prélude and three entrées – Poetry, Music and Dance – before settling on Royer’s exquisite L’Aimable.
The venue is the Château d’Assas. The instrument is its famous harpsichord, favoured for its capacious sonority; its rich bass, its unexpectedly warm middle register and its crisp, silvery, flute-like upper register. Here, Rondeau is free to indulge his fancy and conjure up the complimentary worlds of the theatre and salon in pieces such as Rameau’s delicate Les Tendres Plaintes and more vigorous Les Sauvages, and Royer’s dramatic Le Vertigo and tender La Zaïde.
Rondeau’s playing, as always, seems locked in a struggle between lyricism and contemplation, passion and detachment. Which is part of its magic. And if one is in danger of being – pleasantly, it must be said – crushed beneath the weight of a welter of trills and tirades in pieces like Royer’s Allemande, it only takes the transparency and lightness of a Rameau Sarabande to permit a rapid return to those airy regions where a more refined expression dwells.