F Couperin: Les concerts royaux

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COMPOSERS: F Couperin
LABELS: Accord
WORKS: Les concerts royaux
PERFORMER: Le Parlement de Musique/Martin Gester
CATALOGUE NO: 465 676-2
Couperin’s four suites, or concerts royaux, contain preludes, airs and dances of charm and expressive refinement. Though he wrote the music on two staves, suitable for one or two solo harpsichords, we know that he also envisaged performances with a mixed chamber ensemble. Indeed, Couperin himself presented at least some of the music in this way at the Sunday concerts for Louis XIV at Versailles towards the end of the king’s life. Le Parlement de Musique performs the four concerts in this way, incorporating two violins, flute, bass viol, theorbo and harpsichord in a variety of combinations. The result is generally pleasing; these artists are experienced in the distinctive application of French ornament and intuitive in their gestures and inflections. The players express the music with greater delicacy than the Kuijken brothers (Sony), and score over the Trio Sonnerie version (ASV) by virtue of their greater range of instrumental colour. It took me a while to adjust to the thin and plaintive violin tone of Stéphane Pfister, but, this apart, I found the ensemble warmly textured and well balanced.

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The nobility of the opening Prélude of each concert is fluently understood, while the diverse character of the dances is conveyed with authority and intimacy. The Muzette of the Third Concert and the Forlane of the Fourth are perhaps the greatest among many delights that Couperin holds in store for his audience, and Martin Gester’s Parlement shapes them evocatively and without overstatement. Nicholas Anderson