Christophe Rousset is no stranger to Couperinís music,
having recorded a complete set of his harpsichord works for Harmonia
Mundi on 11 CDs. Couperin was above all a composer for the harpsichord.
He composed a total of 229 pieces for the instrument, arranged in 27
suites that he called "ordres". Yet he also composed some other instrumental
suites, that follow the first four "concerts royaux" written
for the harpsichord. These works were written on two staves with no
indication of scoring, and can be played by any combination of instrument,
"not only harpsichord, but also violin, flute, oboe, viol and bassoon."
This recording includes all of the remaining "concerts"
- numbers 5 to 14 - that follow from the four concerts written for harpsichord.
Their tone is solemn, much more restrained when compared with the Couperin
we are familiar with on the harpsichord. Listening to Roussetís recording
of the first four concerts, one can hear a marked difference in tone
and style. Where is the exuberance that Rousset brings to the keyboard?
These works sound staid and wooden, at times almost as if the musicians
were not interested in the music. The violinist in the second movement
of the eleventh concert has poor tone, and the oboist in the third movement
of the same work sounds as though he is rehearsing.
There is little emotion, and very little joy in this
music - some of it is interesting, musically, but even those movements
marked with relatively fast tempo indications lack vigour. There are
some exceptions: the fourth movement of the tenth concert, La Tromba,
marked "légèrement", is rapid and energetic.
But the prelude to the eleventh concert, marked "majesteusement,
sans trop de lenteur" (majestically, not too slow), is more majestic
than un-slow. Rousset seems to have decided to focus on a tone that
can only be expressed in slow tempi, and it does not work.
The ensemble playing on this set has an excellent sound,
and a fine balance - for that much at least Rousset knows how to handle
his musicians. But the overall impression is one of music that is forgettable
- in spite of its quality - because of weak performance. Perhaps that
explains why it took more than seven years after the recording sessions
for this set to be released?