Couperin • Rebel
Antagonism between French and Italian Baroque music was generated largely by politics, royal taste and ill-qualified critics. (The famous description of Leclair playing the violin like an angel, and Locatelli like a devil, comes from a minor Dutch organist from Groningen.
In the two ‘apotheoses’ on this disc, François Couperin raises to God-like status both the Italian Corelli and the Italian-born turncoat Lully. But Couperin’s ultimate achievement is ‘la réunion des goûts’ (the reuniting of tastes).
Le Parnasse ou l’apothéose de Corelli is a thoroughly Italian trio sonata – two violins with continuo – in which Corelli approaches Parnassus, drinks from the inspiring Hippocrene fountain, falls asleep, and thanks the Muses for honouring him. Meanwhile, in Concert à la mémoire de Lulli, Lully’s elevation to God-like status evokes ‘subterranean rumblings’ of jealousy and groans from his contemporaries, with flutes added to strings. Finally, both composers accompany each other in turn, celebrating the ‘réunion’ of music greater than the sum of its parts.
The consort’s performance is superbly stylised, from the disarming simplicity of Corelli’s ‘sleep’ to the delicate cross-rhythms of a gentle Lullian ‘air’. Jean-Féry Rebel’s Tombeau de Monsieur de Lully, which divides the Couperin pieces, spectacularly contrasts Italian fire with French lyricism.
The programme is excellently recorded in a glorious acoustic. The liner notes (lacking dates and translations) could be more helpful.