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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les Nations Réunies & Autres Sonades
La Simphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne
rec. 2017, La salle Colonne à Paris, France

Regarded as one of the baroque period’s greatest keyboard composers, François Couperin was well deserving of his reputation. His output included over 230 pieces of harpsichord music arranged into 27 Ordres in the Quatrième livre de quatuors, harpsichord pieces, works for organ - mainly the two Organ Masses – and magnificent vocal and chamber music. Sadly, in comparison with other composers, the closest he came to composing any substantive orchestral music was Les Nations, four works not be confused with the four suites we have here, which grew out of four “sonades”, Couperin’s name for sonatas. The Les Nations I have come to love had these sonades as their jumping off point, as it were, with between six and ten additional movements in order to add extra colour to the works, whereas here we have just the opening sonades.

So here, we not only have the four sonades that make up Les Nations, we also have an additional three and thus Couperin’s complete sonades on a single disc interspersed with three harpsichord pieces concluding with the Paix du Parnasse from the Tombeau de François Couperin - all of which add up to a splendid collection. There is however, a twist, in that Hugo Reyne has decided to semi-orchestrate the sonades, changing them from the usual trio sonata format, adding flutes, oboes and bassoon, resulting in a more colourful texture. A number of recordings feature specific sonades, but as Hugo Reyne claims in the booklet, this is the first disc to contain them all. The arrangements are idiomatic and add French baroque colour to the sonades, standing well alongside the originals as a wonderful realisation of just what these works could have sounded like.

The Musiques à la Chabotterie label is new to me, but the La Simphonie du Marais are well known, particularly for their recordings for Accord of Lully’s music. I have in the past been highly impressed by their playing and am glad to say that this disc is no different, my only gripe being that some of the spoken introductions could be a little sharper – but it is the music you want to hear. The playing of the group’s harpsichordist, Yanníck Varlet, is excellent; he has a real touch in this music and I will be looking out for him in the future. The band as a whole add a new impetus to the music, with the most famous, the four sonades that make up Les Nations, being given new life; just listen to the third of the set, Sonade en trio La Convalescents ou L'Impériale, with its flowing wind playing and you will be hooked.

A word must be said about the booklet notes: Hugo Reyne is very creative in the way he gives us a discursive but entertaining booklet essay in the form of an imaginary interview whereby he sets the Couperin a question and uses his own words taken from his prefaces and letters to form an answer. This sets the scene well for superb performances which are engineered to achieve a stunning clarity of sound - apart from the declamations, that is. I will be looking out for further Musiques à la Chabotterie recordings, but although the booklet highlights other releases, looking through the online catalogues I find that their recordings are few and far between. I usually steer clear of arrangements, but this augmented version of Les Nations is well worth investigating.

Stuart Sillitoe

1   Sonade en trio La Pucelle ou La Française (Les Nations 1st Ordre)
2   Pièce de clavecin: La Visionnaire (25th ordre 4th Livre)
3   Sonade en trio La Visionnaire ou L'Espagnole (Les Nations 2nd Ordre)
4   Sonade en trio La Steinkerque (Triosonate)
5   Sonade en trio L'Astrée ou La Piémontaise (Les Nations 4th Ordre)
6   Pièce de clavecin: La Superbe ou la Fourqueray (17th ordre 3rd Livre)
7   Sonade en trio La Superbe (Triosonate)
8   Sonade en quatuor La Sultane (Sonate)
9   Pièce de clavecin: La Convalescente (26th ordre 4th Livre)
10 Sonade en trio La Convalescente ou L'Impériale (Les Nations 3rd Ordre)
11 Tombeau de François Couperin - Paix du Parnasse

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