As you might imagine, I have a favorite list of musicians, of "baroque" musicians, and this list has been cultivated over many years. The first time I saw Trevor Pinnock in a concert was a treat, not to mention Reinhard Goebel, Richard Egarr, etc., from ensembles that have been active since the 1980s. Early after his debut on the international stage, French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset began recording for Decca/L'Oiesau-Lyre and I can still remember the shop in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where I purchased the 2-CD set of Jean-Philippe Rameau's two collections of Pièces de Clavecin by Rousset. I was excited for the opportunity to finally see Rousset, and especially so in his role as a claveniste over a conductor. This past week he appeared in Washington, D.C., as part of a U.S. tour, at the Maison Française. The program wasn't full of "audience favorites" or "well-known warhorses," but typified, I think, Rousset's role as a harpsichord player. I have a strong feeling he sees himself as a flame keeper, as did, I think, Goebel, to keep ancient treasures alive. The recital was called Eloge de l'Ombre or "In Praise of Shadows." * Chambonnières - Pavane in d * Froberger - Suite in c * Couperin, L. - Suite in F * d'Angelbert - Suite in D The three suites ended each with a Tombeau. We see in the photo above Rousset tuning the David Jacques Way instrument he performed on; similar to my last visit at the MF, the hall was warm, and in this case, slighly humid. This did not play well with the instrument, and frequently, Rousset talked us through in English what he was doing during his emergency tuning adjustments. It's a pity he didn't spend more time talking to us; I would have enjoyed a dialog, I know, about the pieces he chose to perform. Lucky, well-informed Washingtonians had a second opportunity to hear him the next day at the Library of Congress, with material from more contemporary composers, such as Rameau and Royer. You had to close your eyes, I think, to really cut-out the distraction of where you were, and what you were doing. This is real baroque music, and that is to say, it's all heavily ornamented. Many of these pieces are real disfigured pearls, but they seem more apropos in Marie-Antoinette's bedroom (or even her jail cell), perhaps, than a black hall. I feel this collection was as much cultural as anything else, like an old photograph, telling us as much about the time it was written and performed, as it was about sound and emotion. That's a polite way of saying the music is perhaps a little difficult for your average modern audience to appreciate. I happen to have the Froberger suite (no. 19) performed by Rousset on disc. Recorded in 1992 on Harmonia Mundi, it's not a CD I listen to a lot, but it always stood out to me for its character. The instrument used was original, and the tuning to my ears, then, was bizarre. The opening Allemande we can almost hear on the organ. The Gigue is a little more alive, and quite appropriate for the harpsichord. The courante opens, but then--seems to stop! mid-phrase. It's memorable, for sure, and all those little particular unexpected elements within were nicely framed by Rousset's face as he played. Many a saraband are not my cup of tea; in the recording, Rousset's non-equal tuning makes the piece very interesting. Live, the piece was less successful, perhaps. I do have to applaud Rousset for not adding too much of an interpretation to modernize the music. It was during this piece that I thought back to something I had read in the program… keeping this music alive… continuing a tradition… bringing this repertoire to a wider, international audience… keeping the music living. And then we got to the 1652 tombeau sur la Mort de Monsieur Blancheroche. The piece has a nice-enough little progression that repeats, but I'm curious about the theme, and how it relates to Blancheroche. Listening to the recording now, it isn't a terribly different interpretation, some 20 years removed, than what we heard just last week. I am not sure I can reproduce Louis Couperin's suite precisely from disc; I recently acquired Egarr's assessment of all of Louis' solo harpsichord works. The F major dances occupy the start of his third CD. so I know all the pieces are there. I've been having a hard time with Louis' works; they are not immediately as interesting to me as what might come around 30-40 years later. But hearing and seeing this suite performed live, I came to realize how important the performer's responsibility for conveying or communicating Affekt is, with this music. The music just isn't notes; the "free preludes" and the apreggiated chords are about texture, moods, and as Rousset has suggested, shadows. And that's important, I think, to realize. This music isn't necessarily profound. Hear it a decorated salon, complete with gold leaf, richly colored paintings, or even other entertainments (eating, reading, etc.), then this music isn't alone in its aim. It's an added element. And with all of that other stuff gone, even out of our minds, I can see how this repertoire might prove tedious to some. As I sat in the concert hall, I closed my eyes, taking in the textures and and the way the harmonies played - loosely in some cases. I realized Couperin was, at times at least, painting with sound. D'Angelbert is the most modern of the composers on the program, born a whopping 2 years after Louis Couperin, in 1628. The two years (or maybe not) make him, for me, the most palatable of the composers represented. I have Rousset's 2000 recording on Decca. Rousset's program ended with his Tombeau for Chambonnières, which was a cute way to bring the concert full circle. I also have Skip Sempé's reading of the same piece. It makes me think how much more human it might come across, perhaps, on a viole da gamba. You have to breathe through the phrases, I think. And the comparison on disc helps me admire Sempé's playing, a lot, who I might wager to say is a "listener's" performer. His 1992 recording of the same piece, at least, has a more pleasing sound and while he draws out the piece longer than Rousset, it seems in his hands to have a little more "direction." This review really isn't about Rousset's recordings, nor any comparisons to other harpsichordists. But this discussion deserves the comparisons, for me, because I felt that in concert, that Rousset's handling of the slowest pieces kind of sat there. It took perhaps more imagination than necessary to see "the art." With the faster dances and Rousset's two encores, the result was very different. With fast tempi, his interpretations improved, I think. Which could also mean I like faster dances than the introspective ones, too. In the end, the concert showed us that Rousset's recordings are pretty true to his art. He's a consistent player that is not afraid to tackle the full canon of French clavecin music. My only problem with the program was that the pieces he chose were from the earlier part of the canon; which says far more about me and my preferences than Rousset's abilities as a harpsichord soloist. I'll take my François Couperins, Jean-Philippe Rameaus, and Jean-Marie Leclairs any day over the likes of Chambonnières, Froberger, Louis Couperin, or Jean-Henry d'Anglebert. That said, it was a real treat to see Mr. Rousset live, and he was kind enough to autograph my copy of his more recent recording of Marchand and Rameau.