F Couperin L’Alchimiste harpsichord works, Vol. 1
Bertrand Cuiller (harpsichord)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902375.76 127:43 mins (2 discs)
2018 marks the 350th anniversary of Couperin’s birth so it is to be expected that harpsichordists be galvanised into activity. This new release promises to be the first by French harpsichordist Bertrand Cuiller in what eventually will be a complete survey of Couperin’s keyboard oeuvre which also includes two organ masses. Perhaps we should voice a special commendation to Harmonia Mundi for the ambitious enterprise since it has already two complete recordings of Couperin’s harpsichord pieces by Kenneth Gilbert and Christophe Rousset.
Published in four books over a period of 17 years the music is contained in 27 ordres, a term which denotes groups of pieces in related keys, falling somewhere between a suite and an anthology. The expressive range and subtlety of the pieces – enigmatic, abstract and doubtless containing an element of metaphor – presents an elusive challenge of magnitude to an interpreter. For the most part Cuiller rises to the challenge with commendable attention to ornament and a comfortable feeling for just tempo. Subtitled ‘Un petit théâtre du monde’, several of the pieces refer directly, or more usually indirectly, to the stage, but no more so than many of those which will appear in later volumes. Cuiller proves himself capable of extrovert and intimate gestures in turn, as he demonstrates in the sequence of pieces belonging to his bitter-sweet portrayal of the musicians’ guild of the Ménestrandise (Ordre No. 11) on the one hand, and the all-pervasive melancholy of Les Regrets (Ordre No. 3) on the other. All in all, this is a promising start to what looks to be a fulfilling project.