Couperin, Marais et al

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Couperin,Marais et al
LABELS: L’OISEAU-LYRE
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Musique Pour la Chambre du Roi
WORKS: Music by Couperin, Marais et al
PERFORMER: Judith Nelson (soprano), Christophe Coin (bass viol), Monica Huggett (violin); Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 436 185-2 ADD
This compilation evokes the Versailles of Louis XIV where François Couperin was employed. The first sonata from Les nations was ‘eagerly devoured’ by its first audience, as Couperin wrote later. Hogwood and the AAM play it expressively and mostly elegantly, as befits a piece intended for royal ears evoking the glories of France. The two love songs that follow, the ‘Airs sérieux’, are agreeably sung by Judith Nelson, although they are less striking and the second needed a touch more pace.

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The other works here don’t represent a major discovery; not even Couperin’s Trio from Les nations, though it’s a pleasant example of its genre. Montéclair’s cantata Le triomphe de la constance is dull and takes ages to reach its final air; but Judith Nelson performs stylishly and the other piece by him, the Pan et Syrinx cantata, is much better. A Suite by Forqueray is characterful and gets a strong and sometimes comic performance. The six-page booklet essay leaves us in the dark as to whether it is by Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, who’s credited elsewhere, or his father, under whose name it was published, (according to New Grove, he edited his father’s pieces). The booklet should have dealt with the ten works here in the playing order, and should also tell us who plays in each piece, as well as the name of the French narrator in Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille, Marais’s grisly musical depiction of a gallstone operation. Leclair’s Sonata is played with more vigour than polish by an unidentified violinist and Hogwood supplies a chunky continuo.

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Overall, these performances are skilful but fail to ravish the ear, and the disc contains musique de table of variable quality. The recording is clear but too close for comfort. Christopher Headington