The French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau played what may have been the most auspicious Washington debut of the season at the Embassy of France on Tuesday night. Since winning first prize at the 2012 Musica Antiqua Competition in Bruges, Belgium, Rondeau has generated considerable buzz in European music circles, culminating earlier this year with a Warner Records contract and the Instrumental Soloist Revelation of the Year award at Les Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of the Grammys.
Rondeau, 24, is one of the most natural performers one is likely to hear on a classical music stage these days. Affectation and ostentation are not part of his makeup and, once seated at the instrument, he and the harpsichord become one. Everything after that is music-making that is masculine, direct and richly human.
The pillars of his program were three large pieces by Bach. First came the subtle Prelude from the C Minor Suite, BWV 997, originally conceived for an arcane lute-like instrument, which set a tone of confiding intimacy for the evening. The famous “Chaconne” from the D Minor Solo Violin Partita, played in a transcription by Brahms, emerged with a spontaneous urgency as though improvised on the spot. Finally a sun-drenched Italian Concerto combined bold colors, incisive rhythm and joyful athleticism with an irresistible singing style.
Interspersed were sonatas by Bach’s contemporary Domenico Scarlatti, who spent most of his creative life attached to the courts of Portugal and Spain. In each sonata, Rondeau created a microcosm, mirroring 18th-century Iberian sensibility, alternating between flamenco-like hauteur and the searchingly poetic.
Rondeau is a master of his instrument with the sort of communicative gifts normally encountered in musicians twice his age. He internalizes the music he plays so completely that any interpretive ambivalence or miscalculation is unthinkable. The sincerity and modesty of his delivery are the keys to its power.
Rucker is a freelance writer.