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French Suites BWV 812-817

Blandine Rannou (Harpsichord)

Blandine Rannou Plays Bach's French Suites


Bach: Suite Françaises

French Suites, BWV 812-817 [16:19, 15:13, 16:33, 15:22, 10:10, 17:13]

Blandine Rannou (Harpsichord)

Zig Zag Territories

Sep 2001

2-CD / TT: 101:13

Recorded at l'Englise de Bon Secours à Paris Xie, France.
Review: French Suites by Blandine Rannou
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Donald Satz wrote (October 16, 2004):
Comparison: David Cates/Music & Arts

Blandine Rannou is a young harpsichordist who has recorded the music of Couperin, Rameau, and Bach for the Zig Zag label. She displays a recognizable style in her playing of Bach's Six French Suites where the main priorities appear to be flow, momentum, and beauty. These are certainly favorable qualities, and Rannou fully succeeds in conveying them. I am most impressed with the exuberance she gives to the energized and fast movements and the joy of life she imparts to the Allemandes. Her readings are highly enjoyable ones that most listeners would likely appreciate.

Now is the time for the David Cates set to rear its head. I reviewed his performances a short number of months ago and considered it among the best on the market. In the intervening time period, my affection for his interpretations has only grown. At this point, it is the version I would insist on if I could have just one. Like Rannou, Cates is first-rate when it comes to bringing out the music's beauty, drive, and flow. But he has additional virtues not found in the Rannou performances.

While listening to both sets, these features most occupied my mind:

Exuberance - Rannou's exuberance is up-front and quite exciting in the fast and energized movements. She tends to play faster than Cates, and the greater drive can be advantageous. This is very noticeable in the Bourree from the Suite in G major, Rannou giving the music energy and drive much greater than from Cates. Also, the last three movements of the Suite in B minor are superbly played by Rannou with effervescence at peak levels.

Beauty of Music - Both artistis do a great job of bringing out Bach's lyricism, particularly in the Allemandes. Rannou's Allemande from the Suite in G major is an especially gorgeous reading of life affirmation.

Detail of Musical Lines - Cates clearly places more emphasis on detail than Rannou who favors the flow of the music.

Depth of Expression - The Cates performances find every nugget of emotional depth in Bach's music, while Rannou can sound rather superficial in comparison. This is most evident in the Sarabandes, a weak spot for Rannou. A good example is her Sarabande from the Suite in G major where she gives the poignant music a light brushing. However, I don't want to leave the impression that Rannou's Sarabandes are unworthy; they are lovingly offered with excellent pacing.

Conversational and Rhetorical Matters - I've not heard a version of the French Suites where the conversations among musical lines are so compelling as in the Cates performances. Rannou simply does not emphasize these features - the gap here is huge. An excellent example is the Allemande from the Suite in D minor where Cates puts on his rhetorical garb in incisive fashion; Rannou erases the rhetoric.

Rhythms - Another triumph for Cates. He often uses a staggering technique where certain musical lines are placed behind the beat. This creates a 'tugging' effect that I find enhances the impact of the rhythmic flow. There's nothing wrong with Rannou's rhythms, but they definitely don't compare to the Cates staggering approach.

Tension - The French Suites are not high on the 'desperation' scale, but a few of the movements are overtly dramatic and most have at least an underlying and subtle tension. Rannou prefers a sunny approach to Bach's music that sometimes results in a deficiency of pressure. This lacking comes to center stage in both the Courante and the Gigue from the Suite in D minor.

Tempos - Rannou is uniformly faster than Cates. The quicker pacing does pay some dividends for Rannou, but it also results in the glossing over of voice interaction. An obvious example is her Menuet from the Suite in E flat major that must be at least twice as fast as the contemplative Cates version; her entire emphasis is the music's comfortable flow, while Cates offers a stunning rhetorical event that recognizes every musical detail with strong feeling.

Sound Quality - Cates is given a very clean soundstage that allows his wonderful detailing of voices its full measure. Rannou's sound has more reverberation and constitutes waves of sounds. It is possible that Rannou gives us some razor-sharp phrasing, but there's no way a listener could hear it. My preference is easily with the Cates soundstage.

In conclusion, Blandine Rannou is an excellent Bach performing artist, and listening to her set of the French Suites entails a host of pleasures including the harpsichord built by Frederic Bal and Anthony Sidey in 1985 after a Ruckers-Hemsch model. Cates remains my first choice, but Rannou will get some playing time when I feel the need for a pick-me-up.


Feedback to the Review

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Enjoyable review, thanks Don! I haven't heard either one of these sets yet, beyond samples. My favorites have included Brookshire, Curtis, Jaccottet, Leonhardt, Dart (on clavichord), an older Verlet recording on Philips....

Your review spurred me to listen to the Jaccottet set again a few days ago. Where would you put Cates and Rannou, vis-a-vis Brookshire and Curtis?

Donald Satz wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Well, I haven't listened to the Curtis set in a few years and never heard the Brookshire. Together, we have heard it all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] I believe that some of your Cates remarks below will apply to Brookshire's also, when you've heard it; and I think you'll enjoy his rhythmic drive.

Some reviews of it:

Donald Satz wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I'll likely get the Brookshire at some point, but I found him so obnoxious when he was posting to the board that I put him in deep-freeze.

Jan Hanford wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] I'm so glad someone finally said that.

I found him completely obnoxious and will not bother with his recordings as a result. I don't need to like someone in order to buy their recordings but Brookshire was too much of a turn-off.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] When anybody plays the music and the instrument that well, it really doesn't matter (to me anyway) how the personality comes across in any other medium outside the performance. The commitment to and fluency with the music is the Main Event.

And, Brookshire is a terrific guy of strong convictions, professional focus, and a sense of fairness and humor. I've met him a number of times and collaborated with him on some projects. It didn't surprise me at all that he got a little crunchy in on-list BRML dialogue sometimes, for the same reasons that I do, in confrontation with other people's nonsense that gets in the way of the work. So would Bach have done, I suspect, according to the reports. It's part of the work-oriented personality, where anything distracting away from the focus of the music is at least a minor annoyance. Better to have strong convictions and express them clearly, than to get walked upon (and worse) by those who disrespect or fail to understand the work, IMO.

Anyway, go buy his record of the French Suites. It rocks. It's inspiring.

Charles Francis wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Come n! He made some excellent points like this one:

"HIP is nothing more than the means by which those who can't perform music very well can claim to trump the carefully-considered artistic judgements of fine performers. I am all for the lively discussion of musical values, but that is not what HIP is usually about. HIP just supplies those who have not evolved a musical aesthetic or a critique for themselves with flimsy and chimeric reasons to jump up and down and bluster, simple because they have read (and, more often than not, misunderstood) one or more of the treatises, and found musicians who have come to other conclusions "deficient," or "inauthentic." Its rise parallels a lamentable decline in music criticism during the last few decades. More to the point, HIP advocates sound to me like the good Burghers of fin de siecle Vienna: secure in the knowledge that they were upholding "correct" musical values, they are now remembered only as the pedants who excoriated visionary musicians such as Mahler and Schoenberg."

Donald Satz wrote (October 19, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] An excellent quote below - just the type of comments that led me to the obnoxious designation. What I'll never understand is why performers write this stupid dribble when they want as many people as possible to buy their recordings. Zuckerman said similar stuff in a Fanfare Magazine a few years ago, and I simply refuse to buy his discs.

My view is that a performer should play music the way he/she wants to play it. BUT, don't dump on on the preferences of others. It's unbecoming and results in reduced sales.


French Suites BWV 812-817: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | French - Brookshire | French - Cates [Satz] | French - Cates [Schwartz] | French - Dart | French - Payne | French - Rannou [McElhearn] | Freanch - Rannou [Satz] | Rübsam - Part 1 | French - Suzuki

Blandine Rannou: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
French Suites by Blandine Rannou | Blandine Rannou Plays Bach's French Suites

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