Justin Taylor - La famille Rameau - Gramophone

The prodigiously talented Franco-American harpsichordist Justin Taylor follows a critically acclaimed earlier album devoted to the Forqueray family (11/16) with this engaging new recording devoted to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau and several of his relatives and admirers over the centuries. Rameau’s nephew, Jean-François Rameau, to whom Diderot attributed a dizzying catalogue of eccentricities and moral lacunae in his brilliant dialogue, isn’t heard from but his father, cousin and half-brother are all present, as well as Jean-François Tapray (who wrote a virtuoso set of variations on the popular Les sauvages) and Debussy (whose melancholy sarabande ‘Hommage à Rameau’ is played by Taylor on the piano).

The disc won’t topple Jean-Philippe from his pedestal as the most famous and brilliant of the Rameau clan but the works by his family and Tapray add nuance to a sonic picture of the French harpsichord at the apogee of its expressive power. Jean-Philippe’s brother, Claude, is represented by a lovely morsel, Menuet barosais, lasting less than a minute, and Lazare Rameau (Claude’s son) contributes a Rondo in which one can hear Hadyn and Mozart just around the corner.

Taylor is a romantic at the keyboard, daring with his agogic accents and subtle rubato, stretching out lines almost but never to breaking point, and infusing the music with an engaging sense of impulsiveness. In William Christie’s rendering of Jean-Philippe’s beloved Les tendre plaintes (Harmonia Mundi, 1/84), the ornaments are lovely, contained bursts of sonic filigree. Taylor, by contrast, finds room for expressive gestures even within a single ornament. The push and pull between the two hands reminds one, at times, of rubato used by pianists playing Chopin in the middle of the last century.

And it all works, maximum freedom deployed for maximum effect. The concluding track, Debussy’s tribute, is by contrast played with a striking reserve and austerity, a touching and perhaps coy way of inverting our usual expectations about the respective virtues and deficiencies of the harpsichord and the piano.

01 July 2021