Couperin: Quatrième livre de pièces de clavecin

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Couperin
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Quatrième livre de pièces de clavecin
PERFORMER: Olivier Baumont (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: Erato
The talented young French harpsichordist Olivier Baumont has jumped in at the deep end of Couperin with this recording of his final book of eight Ordres, or suites – a collection described by Wilfrid Mellers as ‘among the most remarkable feats of creative craftsmanship in the history of music’. He is well served by his instrument, a copy by Anthony Sydey of a sweet-toned Ruckers-Hemsch hybrid, tuned in an unequal temperament which brings out the adventurous nature of some of Couperin’s harmonies; but to my ears it is recorded a little too close for comfort.

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Baumont is admirably assured in his technique, and clearly well versed in all the niceties of ornamentation and unequal rhythm of the French baroque. At his best, as when sustaining the interest of the extended ‘L’Amphibie’ in Ordre No. 24, or driving through ‘La Pantomime’ at the end of Ordre No. 26 with irresistible verve, he is very good indeed. But occasionally his stylishness tips over into irritating mannerism, with rhythmic flow phrased to a standstill or the left hand creeping ahead of the right.

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Altogether, although there is much to enjoy in this set, it does not gain my recommendation over the classic, and very well recorded, performance by Baumont’s one-time teacher Kenneth Gilbert (available as part of a complete Couperin Ordres on mid-price Harmonia Mundi). Anthony Burton