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Louis COUPERIN (1629-1661)
Nouvelles suites de clavecin
Christophe Rousset (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902501.02 [79:12 + 67:22]

One of the gems of my recorded music collection is the mammoth eleven CD traversal of the four books of the Pièces de clavecin, over two hundred pieces grouped together in suites by François Couperin and played on the harpsichord by Christophe Rousset. These recordings were made in the early 1990s. Over twenty years later, Rousset now turns his focus to François’ less prolific uncle Louis, whose life was sadly cut short at the age of only thirty-five. Approximately 200 of Louis Couperin’s works survive, the majority (around 122 pieces) are for harpsichord. They are preserved as copies in the Bauyn Manuscript alongside works by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667) and Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (c.1601/2– 1672). This assemblage took place about fifteen years after the composer’s death. This is the second time Rousset has taken Louis Couperin’s music into the studio. In 2009 he recorded a 2 CD set of Suites Pour Clavecin for the Aparté label. This recording completely escaped my notice, so I’m unable to offer any thoughts or comparisons on it.

This is the Stradivari Collection’s debut, a partnership between Harmonia Mundi and the Paris Philharmonie, whose museum houses a national collection of valuable preserved instruments. The aim of the series is to bring together renowned performers and particular instruments, in this case Christophe Rousset inaugurates proceedings on the Joannes Couchet harpsichord of 1652. Rousset is no stranger to it, having played it in a Froberger recording. For Louis Couperin it seemed an obvious choice, for the unique palette and distinctive sonority it offers. It also confers refinement, facilitates voicing and lightens textures.

Visiting the Bauyn manuscript as the principal source for Louis Couperin’s keyboard works, the pieces are set out in a sequence of ascending tonality and grouped into suites in an order most probably determined by Froberger. Custom depends on taste when it comes to rearranging the pieces and choosing the movements for performance, with performers given the freedom to arrange them as they so wish. The choice and order of pieces for each suite is dependent on the performer’s sense of musical purpose.

Rousset uses an edition of the pieces originally published by Paul Brunold, here in a new revision by Davitt Moroney. We are treated to eleven suites – six in major keys, five in minor. Eight begin with ‘unmeasured’ preludes. Here, the duration of the note is left to the discretion of the performer, as there are no bar lines or metre indications. This allows for greater freedom of expression, and in Rousset’s hands they sound improvisatory, free flowing and evolving on the wing.

The dance movements consist of Allemandes, Courantes, Sarabandes, Gigues, Gaillardes, and Chaconnes. What I admire about Rousset is his stylish, rhythmically incisive playing, idiomatic phrasing and tasteful ornamentation. He manages to coax some fabulous sonorities from the instrument; contrast the light diaphanous luminosity of the third Sarabande of the C major Suite, with the dark burnished glow of the Chaconne which ends the D major. There’s a wealth of variety and emotional richness in the music, whether it be the stately mein of the first Courante of the D minor Suite, the hint of wistful regret in the A minor Suite’s Allemende or the life-affirming Gigue in the F major.

Rarely have a heard a harpsichord so well recorded, with detail perfectly captured and textures strikingly lucid. The Cité de la Musique’s venue confers air and space around the instrument.  It’s an absolute joy to listen to. Added to that, Rousset plays with commanding authority and impeccable musicianship. Documentation is first rate. This release stands tall and would grace any Baroque collection. 

Stephen Greenbank
CD 1 [79:12]
Suite en Ré majeur / D Major [14:17]
Suite en Ut majeur / C Major [17:29]
Suite en La majeur / A Major [11:39]
Suite en Si bémol majeur / B flat Major [14:09]
Suite en mi mineur / E minor [8:58]
Suite en si mineur / B minor [7:08]

CD 2 [67:22]
Suite en Fa majeur / F Major [12:03]
Suite en Sol majeur / G Major [19:24]
Suite en ré mineur / D minor [13:16]
Suite en la mineur / A minor [13:52]
Suite en ré mineur / D minor [8:29]



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