Couperin: Les concerts royaux No. 1; Les concerts royaux No. 2; Les concerts royaux No. 3; Les concerts royaux No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Couperin
LABELS: Alia Vox
ALBUM TITLE: Couperin
WORKS: Les concerts royaux No. 1; Les concerts royaux No. 2; Les concerts royaux No. 3; Les concerts royaux No. 4
PERFORMER: Le Concert des NationsJordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AVSA 9840
Couperin wrote the four Concerts royaux to entertain an ailing Louis XIV in Sunday evening chamber concerts. They were published in a harpsichord book, on two staves, and they would certainly work in this sparse texture. But in the preface Couperin listed a wide range of options – violin, flute, oboe, viol and bassoon – while he himself played harpsichord, presumably expanding its role to that of chordal continuo. Other recordings generally choose economy packages, Davitt Moroney with flute and viol (Harmonia Mundi), Trio Sonnerie on violin with continuo (ASV) – all very stylish and admirable for a single Sunday’s-worth. But for a month of Sundays, Jordi Savall’s colourful options are a delight.

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The first Concert is shared between oboe with bassoon and violin with bass viol. For the secondConcert, Savall restricts his forces to strings, including novel octave-unisons between violin and his own bass viol. Intonation in this most testing texture is exemplary, though Savall is so engrossed in playing that he is presumably unaware of his none-too-sotto voce accompanying groans, particularly disturbing in a gentle ‘Air tendre’.

Flute joins in the third Concert, with stylishly frothy decoration and a splendidly animated ‘Chaconne légère’, imaginatively shared between three players and continuo. The final Concert offers a kaleidoscope of colours, all the more varied by continuo of harpsichord and theorbo/guitar and ending with a wonderfully spirited ‘Forlane en rondeau’.

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While stereo-CD sound is admirable, the stage opens out most impressively through five-channel Super Audio – a remarkable expansion from the printed two-stave keyboard original. George Pratt