F Couperin: Motets Choisis

COMPOSERS: F Couperin
LABELS: Novum
ALBUM TITLE: F Couperin
WORKS: Motets Choisis
PERFORMER: Soloists of New College, Oxford; Collegium Novum/ Edward Higginbottom
CATALOGUE NO: NCR 1384

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François Couperin’s reputation as a keyboard composer and theorist has masked his considerable output of church music. This splendid disc helps to redress the balance and includes, among its nine ‘petits motets’ for one or more solo voices, three pieces unheard since around 1700 – their string parts are lost. But Oxford musicians have always studied historical styles through imitative composition, and Higginbottom is master of the craft. I couldn’t fault his instrumental reconstructions. They’re totally convincing – tightly integrated with the vocal lines, inventive within the constraints of Couperin’s style, and reflecting the moods of the text.

The performance is astonishing. Two New College trebles, aged 11 and 13, sing with a musical maturity and technical focus which I’ve never heard bettered. Intonation is spot-on, with none of that instability (for some winsome, for others unnerving) which often characterises unbroken boys’ voices. In the duet ‘Lauda Sion Salvatorem’ their individually distinctive voices are beautifully matched. No less exceptional is the haute-contre (light high-tenor) of Guy Cutting, and the ensemble is completed by two contrasting pairs of basses, choral scholars and lay clerks respectively. With excellent strings and sympathetic recording, this is a real revelation.

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George Pratt