F Couperin: Concert 3; Concert 11; Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2

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COMPOSERS: F Couperin
LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Concert 3; Concert 11; Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2
PERFORMER: Mieneke van der Velden (viola da gamba), Glen Wilson (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 18302
This inventive programme teases from the work-list of a non-viol-player four legitimate suites. The suites are for gamba and continuo, written late in Couperin’s life. One is inimitably French – with Prelude, dances and huge final Chaconne – the other recalling an Italian four-movement sonata disguised with French titles. But both make great demands on the performers. Van der Velden’s note explains the problems of finding workable fingerings and bowings for the gamba part, while the bare bass line requires imaginative expansion into a full-voiced harpsichord accompaniment. The performance is admirably fluent, though the technical demands create a tautness in the faster movements. Pensive moments – a Sarabande grave, a dolorous funeral march – are bathed in rich, dense harpsichord textures.

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The concerts introduce new colours. Although written for harpsichord, Couperin offered the option of a solo instrument taking the upper line, and the 11th Concert here is shared between a sweet ‘pardessus de viole’, smallest of the family, and movements for harpsichord solo. The Third Concert is stranger still as Couperin added an optional counter-melody for gamba, creating some intriguingly dark textures.

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Despite moments of hard-edged sound – the performers’ perspective unrelieved by distance – this is an attractive disc of less familiar repertoire. George Pratt