Couperin: Les nations, 1726

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COMPOSERS: Couperin
LABELS: Naïve Astrée
WORKS: Les nations, 1726
PERFORMER: Hespèrion XX/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: ES 9956 Reissue (1986, 1997)
Couperin’s four dance suites of Les nations were published in 1726. Each is prefaced with an Italianate trio sonata whose music, for three of them, derives from sonatas which Couperin wrote during the 1690s. The fourth, introducing ‘L’impériale’, is a more fluently mature piece which he probably composed much later on. If the introductory ‘Sonades’, as Couperin called them, are Italian in their idiom, then the appended dances are characteristically and unmistakeably French. Jordi Savall brings the music to life with mediterranean warmth and an intuitive feeling for dance rhythms and their individual gestures. This remains far the most satisfying version of Les nations.

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Between 1686 and 1725 Couperin’s contemporary Marin Marais published five collections of pieces for one, two and three bass viols with continuo. The pieces, derived mainly from the French dance tradition, are of enormous charm and embrace a rich expressive range. This disc features three dance suites from Marais’s Third and perhaps most impressive collection. The performances by Savall and his excellent continuo players are very fine indeed. Nicholas Anderson