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Aya Hamada performs music by Jacques Duphly

This is the premier solo recording for Aya Hamada, and one that features pièces by the French composer Jacques Duphly. I am only marginally acquainted with Duphly’s music, and this is not a comprehensive account, but rather 14 choice selections from his four livres. Her recording on the Live Notes label was released this past April. She had the fortune of recording at the Chapelle de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in Paris (location used by Café Zimmermann) on an instrument once owned by Gustav Leonhardt. Hamada studied and consulted with Skip Sempé and Olivier Fortin, two harpsichordists whom I have long admired.

Aya Hamada

As I listened to get a sense of Duphly’s style, I picked up on whiffs of Rameau but also Domenico Scarlatti in terms of style. This was definitely the case for a later work such as La de Vaucanson from the 4ième livre. This piece too shows off the rich lower register of the instrument. The piece shows off a light-hearted theme against a moving bass, and shows its modernity in not relying upon counterpoint in two voices.

The French “school” of harpsichord literature is likely most famous for the so-called unmeasured preludes made famous by Louis Couperin. The final track of this recording, a Rondeau from the premier livre continues that tradition, at least in spirit, as Hamada applies just enough rubato to give the piece an organic feel. The rondeau entitled La Forqueray too has a similar rubato applied, although it is far more structured with richer thematic material than the last track. It’s a delicious piece that’s well executed.

The recording also contains some pieces that capture Duphly’s ability for “fire.” Marked vivement, the piece entitled La de Belombre has a far more French flavor than anything by Scarlatti, but in sections I could be fooled, too. Hamada never shows fatigue with the faster notes, and in fact impresses me with her phrasing, applying just the right amount of space between the fatter of the chords to impart some gravitas. The opening track, La Larare, too, has plenty of fast notes to arrest our attention. It’s a fitting first piece to debut a new album. Duphly is fond of contrasts; in this piece he takes care to offer some short, but tender exchanges between flights of fancy. In the same vein, Hamada uses the different registers of the instrument to contrast the more tender sound of a single set of strings being plucked with a fuller, louder complement.

All that said, I do not believe Duphly is a composer that necessarily had deep and profound things to say with his music, but it is charming with its lighthearted invention, even in the fast, minor-moded pieces like the Médée from the third book. Compared to Forqueray or François Couperin, Duphly's music comes across to me, today, as more "light" or even "fresh."

The album’s second track, a Chaconne from 1756 I think is a good representative work of Duphly’s style and ability. The range of color between the types of figuration used in the melodic right hand, not to mention the mood changes as the mode changes between major and minor, reveals a somewhat challenging text for the performer. Hamada, I believe, does well at capturing the music’s possibilities through her interpretive decisions. She’s assuredly a polished player who exudes ample confidence.

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