Couperin: Suites Nos 1 & 2 for viola da gamba
Nothing could be more frothily French than Couperin’s two Suites for gamba and continuo. Paolo Pandolfo is a master of the style; in slow movements, barely a note passes without some subtle bowing nuance or full-blown ornament. The Préludes which open each Suite are so heavily decorated that only a firm underlying pulse holds them together. The Sarabande (Suite 1) is similarly languorously free. The helpful notes point out a Couperin trick of including a ghostly ‘second discourse’, a fleeting glimpse of a lower part created by the gamba’s double-stopping. They also reveal what a ‘white shirt’ is doing as the finale of the second Suite (buy the disc for the answer!) after a striking ‘Pompe funèbre’, profoundly solemn, fades almost to nothing before resuming its heavy tread.
In the ‘Concerts’ from Les goûts-réunis, Couperin acknowledged his debt to Corelli, mixing French embellishment with clean-cut Italianate cantabile lines. Two solo gambas, unaccompanied, alternate between imitative interwoven lines (the G major ‘Vivement’ recalls Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg in its constant canon-ing) and strings of concordant thirds and sixths. The same Concert ends in a remarkably imaginative ‘Chaconne légère’ with a delightful throw-away ending.
Recorded sound is excellent – the producer is deservedly included in the booklet’s group photo.