F Couperin: Le tic-toc-choc; Passacaille; Les juméles; Les ombres errantes etc

COMPOSERS: F Couperin
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Tic toc choc
WORKS: Le tic-toc-choc; Passacaille; Les juméles; Les ombres errantes etc
PERFORMER: Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Pablo Pico (drum)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901956
The suites, or ordres as Couperin preferred to call them, of the last three of his four books of harpsichord music tend to work best when played in the sequence the composer intended. This collection ranges widely across all four books providing abundant evidence of the extent of Couperin’s colourful genius. Doubtless Tharaud has thought through his ordering, but it is a touch bewildering to hear the Corellian ‘L’atalante’, the finale of the 12th ordre, coming many movements before its prelude, ‘Les juméles’, a superb celebration of orthodox French keyboard style. Alongside the picturesque pieces are more substantial movements including arguably Couperin’s greatest harpsichord work, the Passacaille in B minor.

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The ideal instrument for these works is a sonorous 18th-century two-manual French harpsichord. They can certainly work on the modern piano, but far too often these present performances seem to trivialise the music. The faster movements rattle along with precious little contour and the Passacaille has little feeling of cumulative power; the more ‘impressionist’ pieces, like the opening ‘Les baricades mistérieuses’, fare better, but while Tharaud’s ornamentation is impeccable and the piano well recorded, the collection as a whole is disappointingly monochrome.

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Jan Smaczny