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Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661)
Les Pièces de Clavecin (selections):
Suite du Tombeau [22:35]
Suite d’Elias [20:41]
Suite de la Pavane [23:56]
Pierre Chalmeau (piano)
rec. May 2015, La Ferme de Villefavard, France
FONDAMENTA FON1501019 [67:12]

This would appear to be the first recording dedicated to Louis Couperin’s keyboard works on the modern piano. Indeed, I could only find two individual movements on separate recordings of his music on this instrument. That alone makes this an interesting, indeed novel, recording. I am of the persuasion that prefers my baroque keyboard music on the modern piano, so was very pleased to receive this for review.

Louis Couperin was uncle of François (le Grand), one of Louis XIV’s most esteemed court musicians. It is the younger man whose keyboard works have been recorded by Angela Hewitt on three marvellous Hyperion discs (CDA67440, CDA67480, CDA67520).

The three “suites” are not the usual ones recorded a number of times on harpsichord, arranged by key. Pierre Chalmeau has made his own selection of pieces that he believes work well together, creating dance suites. This is not inappropriate, as the manuscripts that reached the twentieth century had not been assembled by Couperin, but rather were found in two important collections of 17th century keyboard works: the Bauyn and Parville Manuscripts. With no instructions from the composer, it is up to the performer to made his/her own choice.

Chalmeau talks in the well-written and informative booklet notes of being captivated by the “elegant melancholy” of Couperin’s chaconnes. This is a perfect description of this music, but also of one of the main failings of this recording. There is simply too much slow music to give us much variety. As a consequence, we have over an hour of music that is lovely and soothing, but not captivating. The problem lies in part with the choice of pieces, but also in Chalmeau’s decision to play some of them slower than I would have expected. A gigue, for example, is generally taken at a sprightly tempo, but the two here are barely above andante. To be fair, a number of harpsichord recordings I sampled also favoured slower tempos. Whatever the reason, the effect is a little enervating, and I found my concentration wandering at times.

Listening to the two recordings that have Couperin on the piano – Luc Beauséjour (Analekta) and Moira Lo Bianco (Steinway & Sons) – I was struck by the greater crispness and level of ornamentation in their playing compared to that of Chalmeau. His style borders on the Romantic and certainly contrasts with that of Angela Hewitt, for example.

Fondamenta provide two CDs: a Fidelity Mastering, for playing through quality hi-fi equipment and a Mobility Mastering for computers, car audio and mobile audio devices. Listening to both through my hi-fi, I could certainly hear the more upfront sound of the latter, compared to a richer sound for the Fidelity disc. However, in this instance, I am not sure that extra richness is what this music needs. I am certainly not enamoured with the means by which the second CD is “secured” in the digipack: it simply slips in behind the booklet, and as a consequence is free to fall out.

So, while we have a recording that provides us with a new way of viewing an important composer, it doesn’t give an entirely satisfactory picture.

David Barker

 




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