Couperin: Pièces de clavecin, Book 1/Ordre 2l; Pièces de clavecin, Book 3/Ordre 17; Pièces de clavecin, Bk 4/Ordre 21

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COMPOSERS: Couperin
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Pièces de clavecin, Book 1/Ordre 2l; Pièces de clavecin, Book 3/Ordre 17; Pièces de clavecin, Bk 4/Ordre 21
PERFORMER: Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 454 470-2
François Couperin’s four series of suites or ‘ordres’ which form the ‘Pièces de clavecin’ present a severe challenge to the performer. Couperin cast aside the formal, stereotyped suite structure within which composers of the previous generation worked and replaced it with a style containing the elements of both discipline and fantasy. Couperin stated that performances of his works would not create the required impression ‘unless my notation is followed to the letter, without adding or taking away anything’. This is offset by some wonderfully pictorial, if highly stylised musical images.

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Gustav Leonhardt plays on a fine instrument – a pity no details about it are supplied – with a sweet-toned upper register complemented nicely by a broad but focused bass. His playing places emphasis on tastefully refined embellishment and perceptive characterisation. However, I am left feeling rather disengaged from the music’s animating life-blood, as if Leonhardt is over-familiar with this music. Pieces such as ‘Les papillons’ from the second Ordre stay earth bound, and I missed the freshness of delivery that these miniature gems deserve. Stephen Haylett