Couperin: Suites Nos 1 & 2 for viola da gamba

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COMPOSERS: François Couperin
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Couperin: Suites Nos 1 & 2 for viola da gamba
WORKS: Suites Nos 1 & 2 for viola da gamba and continuo; es goûts-réunis: concerts Nos 2 & 3 for two violas da gamba; Plainte
PERFORMER: Paolo Pandolfo, Amélie Chemin (viola da gamba), Thomas Boysen (theorbo and Baroque guitar), Markus Hünninger (harpsichord)


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.


George Pratt