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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Ordres Nos. 24-27 (1730) [74:06]
L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin: Preludes 6 and 7 (1716) [4:35]
Katherine Roberts Perl (harpsichord)
rec. 2013, Scoring Stage, Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, CA
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1284 [78:47]

Katherine Roberts Perl has made a splendid recital dedicated to the last four Ordres of Couperin. What makes it so special is not simply the element of characterisation and finesse which she brings, but also the sound-world she evokes. Partly these light but flexible voicings are her own subtleties but partly too the result of her decision to fit plectra made from Canada geese into her harpsichord. This, incidentally, is a 1987 model built by John Phillips and modelled after an N. Dumont double manual of 1707. The results are consistently beautiful.

These are Couperin’s final harpsichord works, with the 24th and 25th sets paying homage to Lully. Interspersed are two Preludes which come from Couperin’s L’Art de toucher le clavecin. There are eight such in total from this 1716 publication so she plays a quarter, starting with No.7 which, in its expressive flexibility, provides a perfect start to the 25th Ordre –she inverts the order of these first two sets. La Visionaire has a buoyant majesty whilst La Monflambert possesses real refinement of touch. It’s noticeable that even in the more extrovert or flamboyant left hand passages, there is no tonal harshness and, aided by the sympathetic acoustic, the music emerges the more richly and delicately. The final piece from this set, Les Ombres Errantes, lends its name to the disc title and appropriately so as it’s musing and reflective with deft, drifting harmonies.

Couperin’s homage to Lully is nowhere more evident than in Les Vieux Seigneurs, the first of the 24th Ordre though the playful gallantry enshrined in Les Jeunes Seigneurs is no less engaging. Where the music asks for nobility of expression (‘Noblement’) Perl provides such. Where more searching harmonies exist, as in La Convalescente, the first of the 26th set, she is equally persuasive. La Sophie, replete with ornaments, is a delight and La Pantomime is certainly traversed, as the composer requests, with grande précision. His instructions suggest strongly the expressive character of the music; woe betide a harpsichordist who ignores the Nonchallamment instruction in Les Pavots from the 27th Ordre. To this Perl is equal but she also brings just a hint of tristesse to the music-making.

Throughout she captures the many moods and textures of the music with stylish but unselfconscious intimacy. With her own thoughtful notes and a sympathetic recording, this is a success from beginning to end.

Jonathan Woolf


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