COMPOSERS: L Couperin
WORKS: Keyboard suites in F, C, G minor, C minor, D minor and A minor; Pavanne in F sharp minor
PERFORMER: Christophe Rousset (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: AP 006
Louis Couperin has long walked in the shadow of his more famous nephew François ‘le grand’, partly because relatively little of his music survives, and partly because its interpretation presents a number of challenges.
The performer needs to realise the rhythms of Louis’s ‘unmeasured preludes’ (notated merely in white note heads without bar lines), and has to decide about the ordering of sundry individual pieces that were presumably intended to be grouped together into suites. The elder Couperin
has certainly suffered, too, from a comparative lack of recordings, so this two-disc set is a welcome addition to the catalogue.
By cherry picking the finest of Couperin’s surviving pièces, Christoph Rousset has created six suites, each one concentrated yet highly expressive. The musical language is harmonically rich, peppered with chromaticisms and dissonances; at times, fluid and improvisatory (revealing Couperin’s background as an organist); elsewhere, rhythmically vigorous and metrically controlled.
Rousset combines meticulous fingerwork and attention to the music’s intricacies with rhetorical gestures, balletic energy and a dramatic flair informed by his long experience directing French Baroque opera and ballet. This is playing of subtlety and refinement that underscores the meditative qualities of Couperin’s persona.
The plangent-voiced harpsichord – one of the best-preserved early French instruments, made in 1658 by Louis Denis – is beautifully captured in this detailed yet luminous recording. Kate Bolton