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François COUPERIN (1668–1733)
Second Prélude from 'L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin' [1:27]
Les Nations, Troisième Ordre 'L'Impériale' [30:44]
Treizième Concert à 2 instruments à L'unison [9:21]
Troisième Prélude from 'L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin' [1:00]
Les Nations, Quatrième Ordre 'La Piémentoise' [22:56]
The Purcell Quartet (Catherine Mackintosh (violin); Catherine Weiss (violin); Richard Boothby (bass viol); Robert Woolley (harpsichord)) with Rebeka Rusó (bass viol)
rec. St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, Suffolk, 29-31 October 2004. DDD

The Purcell Quartet’s Vol.1 of ‘Les Nations’ (CHAN 0684) dated from 2001 and observed the context of the music at the court of the Sun King with due grace, ceremony and subtlety, albeit a bit coldly.
This 2004 recording of the remainder of ‘Les Nations’ interspersed with other works, inexplicably placed, retains the accuracy of execution of Vol.1. Sadly virtuosic enthusiasm is no substitute for integrity.
Couperin’s delicacy is only observed in tracks 17 to 21 when a bass viol then a harpsichord are respectively introduced by other musicians. This seems to limit the giddiness of the Purcell strings to an extent, especially an insistent cello.
The aggressive approach to ‘Les Nations’ by the Quartet and engineers alike is less pronounced in the other works and it must be admitted that the Gravement movements (tracks 22 and 24) get a bit closer to Couperin than the rest of this CD.
Compared to Jordi Savall, Hesperion on Astrée  playing ‘Les Nations’ all of a piece or Teldec’s Bruggen, Leonhardt and Quadro Amsterdam the Purcell Quartet’s playing seems to be rushed, a bit brash and even slack at times. Take for example the opening of track 32 and the whole of  33. It is almost as if the musicians are just doing a job instead of loving the music.
Although the recording had the same venue in Suffolk as Vol.1, the producer and engineers are different and this is really what fails this CD.
Chamber music is written for modest halls but I doubt that any room at Louis XIV’s Versailles had an absolutely dead acoustic, even the privy. The Chandos engineers on this disc do no justice to the wonderful instruments played by the Purcell Quartet and duly listed in the excellent CD booklet. Would that the Chandos website could be as accessible.
The overall sound is harsh, tinny and the worst of digital even via different DACs whereas Savall’s committed recording has ambience as well as a French sound or, rather, a European sound of the period. Couperin took many clues from Corelli and Vivaldi at a time when the Italian baroque was fashionable in the very centre of fashion, Versailles.
On several tracks of this disc, especially in ‘Les Nations’ (in its separate chunks) there is a low frequency noise artefact, like a wind noise. There is no excuse for this being present at mixing or at re-mixing but once heard it becomes most irritating. We have all heard traffic rumble on some recordings now and then but this noise is internal to the session and recording.
When it comes to value, the Purcell Quartet ‘Les Nations’ Vol. 2 is a single CD at a fair price but separated from Vol.1 by three years. The logic of this is odd, especially as the engineers are different.
Teldec’s Das Alte Werk double with Bruggen, Bylsma, Leonhardt as the Quadro Amsterdam (1999) might be a little bit dry for some but it is consistent and expert at about £18.
However, Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX on Astrée (Harmonia Mundi) is a double disc dedicated to ‘Les Nations’ and has greater depth than the Teldec at  £17. It is as if the musicians from a warmer clime have an innate understanding of Couperin’s Italian tendencies.
Savall is closest to the court of the Sun King and I regret that, against this backdrop, the Purcell Quartet version on Chandos simply cannot compete.
Stephen Hall


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