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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les Muses Naissantes
Emmanuelle De Negri (soprano)
Brice Sailly (harpsichord)
La Chambre Claire [Atsushi Sakai (treble and bass viol), Marion Martineau (bass viol), Morgane Eouzan (flute), Bojan Čičić (violin), Guillaume Cuiller and Vincent Blanchard (oboe), Nicolas André (bassoon)]
rec. Église Notre-Dame de Centeilles, September 2017. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as mp3 press preview
RICERCAR RIC387 [67:51]

Ricercar’s title might easily deceive the prospective purchaser – as it did me at first – into thinking they had discovered a new cantata by Couperin called Les Muses Naissantes (The Birth of the Muses). In fact, there is no such animal; what we have is a mélange of Couperin’s music in celebration of his 350th anniversary, one short piece in which is called La Muse naissante. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. Yet, though it’s not what I expected, I found it very enjoyable. The idyllic scene from a Poussin painting on the cover matches the Arcadian mood of the programme well.

At the very least, this will serve as a sampler of Couperin’s music for those as yet unacquainted or only marginally acquainted. It is, however, more than that: it contains some music not too well represented in the catalogue, such as the Second Livre de pièces de clavecin.

Like Cæsar’s Gaul, though much more amenable, the CD is divided into three parts. The vocal items are taken from Couperin’s collections entitled Recueuil d’Airs sérieux et à boire (1697-1711). Two items from these feature alongside music by Lambert and Marc-Antione Charpentier on a CD released by Les Arts Florissants in 2016 (Bien que l’amour … Harmonia Mundi HAF8905276). Fortunately, there is no duplication with the five items on the new album, equally well sung by Emmanuelle De Negri, whom I’ve restored to her proper place in the details above: Ricercar downgrade her to the end of the list as ‘with the participation of …’ and even manage to mis-spell her name as ‘Emmauelle’. She has sung regularly with Les Arts Florissants and other baroque specialists in concert and on record: Göran Forlsing thought her a vivid Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo (DG 4793515 – review) and I enjoyed her contribution here, though diction is not always of the clearest.

De Negri also features on a very interesting forthcoming album of French baroque vocal music taken from the operas of Rameau and Gluck and excerpts from an anonymous Requiem adapted from Rameau’s operas. Having heard a sizeable chunk of this on Radio 3 Record Review, I’m looking forward to the whole 78 minutes. (Enfers, Harmonia Mundi HMM902288, Pygmalion/Raphaël Pinchon – review forthcoming).

Brice Sailly is responsible for the harpsichord pieces from Second Livre de pièces de clavecin (1717),Troisième Livre des pièces de clavecin (1722) and Quatrième Livre de pièces de clavecin (1730). The four items from the second book (tracks 9-12) are particularly welcome: there are not too many recordings of this book or its predecessor.

Frédérick Haas, who performs the whole seventh Ordre of Book II on a 2-CD set taken from Books I and II (Alpha 136) adopts faster tempi for the first three of these pieces but lingers a little longer over Les Délices. His playing is undeniably exciting: he’s at his best in the turbulence of L’Adolescente but in the other pieces I prefer Sailly’s quieter approach. Overall, much as I admire Angela Hewitt’s piano recordings of Couperin’s keyboard music (Hyperion), Sailly reminds me why I return for preference to the harpsichord.

The ensemble pieces are taken from Les Concerts Royaux, Les Nations: L’Espagnole and La Françoise and Les Goûts réunis. I so much enjoyed the stylish account of the Forlane which concludes the fourth of the Concerts (track 17) that I wished they could have included the whole work. The excerpts from Les Nations and Les Goûts réunis left me with the same impression. They are likely to send listeners in search of complete recordings, such as Jordi Savall’s Alia Vox of all four Concerts Royaux (AVSA9840 – DL Roundup June 2011/1)1.

Not surprisingly, the Forlane goes with more of a bounce from Savall and his Concert des Nations, yet without putting the more restrained version on the new recording out of court. As a long-term fan of Savall, I really enjoyed his recording of the complete Concerts, but I know that his bright and breezy pointing-up of the music is not to all tastes – it’s stunning in both senses of the word.

Having composed tributes to Lully and Corelli2, Couperin composed several concertos entitled Les Goûts réunis, in which he envisaged the union of the French and Italian styles. The excerpt on track 5 comes from the eighth concerto, available in complete performances from Charivari Agréable (Chamber Music for the King, ASV CDGAU159, download or special Presto CD) or from an ensemble including Thomas Brandis, Heinz Holliger, etc., on a budget 2-CD set from DG Archiv (4594842, download only). Once again, it makes me wish that La Chambre Claire had recorded the whole work. A 2-CD set might have been more to the point.

As usual with releases from the Outhere group, I received the press preview in less than adequate mp3 sound and I have yet to hear it in a lossless version. I can, however, say that the mp3 sounds good enough for me to predict that the CD will not disappoint in the audio department.

The detailed notes in the booklet try to untangle some of the strange titles which Couperin gave to his music, not always successfully. Don’t get too entangled: just accept that some of the words, such as the famous Tic-toc-choc (track 2) cannot be explained. The only recorded use of the word Les Maillotins, its subtitle, was to describe revolting peasants in the fourteenth century.

Another recent recording which I have reviewed would make a fine addition to this album. Inner Chambers contains music for the private enjoyment of Louis XIV: the second item is one of Couperin’s Concerts Royaux and the rest of the music comes from Hotteterre, Marais, Montéclair and Lully. The performances by Les Ordinaires are far from ordinary in the modern sense: they take their name from the private servants of the king (Naxos 8.573814 – review).

My response to the new Ricercar recording is positive except in one regard. With three balls in the air – vocal, keyboard and chamber – I found my appetite not so much satisfied as whetted for other more unified Couperin recordings.  I wish they had given us more.

1 The Passionato link no longer applies. SACD or download from Presto.

2 Apothéose de Lully and Apothéose de Corelli, with other works, on BIS-CD-1275 – DL News 2013/11 – and on Harmonia Mundi HMC902193 – review. Apothéose de Lully and La Paix du Parnasse with the Tenebræ settings on Hyperion CDA68093 – review Passiontide and Easter 2017.

Brian Wilson

Musette: À l’ombre d’un ormeau [5:12]
Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou les Maillotins (Légèrement et marqué) [3:09]
Les Ombres errantes (Languissamment) [3:35]
Affectueusement [2:11]
Grande Ritournéle [2:14]
La Croûilli ou La Couperinéte – Première partie (délicatement, sans vitesse) [3:41]
Seconde partie de la Pièce prédédente dans le goût de Musète (naïvement) [1:30]
Brunette: Zephire, modère en ces lieux [6:38]
Les Petits-Âges :
La Muse naissante [2:38]
L’Enfantine [2:21]
L’Adolescente [2:46]
Les Délices [3:12]
La Pastorelle: Il faut aimer dès qu’on sait plaire [4:20]
La Petite Pince-sans-rire (Affectueusement, sans lenteur) [2:22]
Qu’on ne me dise plus que c’est la seule absence [2:32]
Air (Gracieusement) [1:31]
Quatrieme Concert Royal: Forlane – Rondeau (Gayement) [3:37]
Doux liens de mon cœur [2:35]
Gavotte [1:05]
La Reine des Cœurs (Lentement et très tendrement) [2:32]
Chaconne ou Passacaille [3:12]
Le Dodo ou L’Amour au berceau (Sur le mouvement des Berceuses) [4:58]