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Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661)
Pièces de clavecin du manuscrit Bauyn (c. 1658) [29:08]
François COUPERIN ((1668-1733)
Pièces de clavecin II: Ordre 6ème in B flat (1717) [23:36]
Pièces de clavecin III: Ordre 18ème in F major No. 6 (1722) [2:43]
Arman-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789)
Pièces de clavecin Op. 1 (1751) [17:33]
Dorota Cybulska-Amsler (harpsichord)
rec. 2010, Musée d’Art et d’Histore, Neuchâtel, France
DUX 1547 [73:12]

When discussing musical families, we automatically think of Bach’s, or maybe the Benda family, but here we have one of the most important of all such families, represented here by just three of its musician members. The first mention of any musician in the Couperin family was the trader and financier Mathurin (1569–1640); his two sons were both musicians, as were many of his grandchildren, then we come to the more famous members. His eldest grandson was Louis Couperin, who features on this disc; his other two grandsons were François - not the famous one - and Charles, the father of the famous François. If I have worked the family tree out correctly, Arman-Louis Couperin was the great nephew of Louis and cousin of François ‘Le Grand’, the nickname he was given to distinguish him from his uncle, who was not-so-great. There are around fifteen musical Couperins mentioned in the annals of French music, including a number of women. These include Marguerite-Antoinette Couperin (1705–1778) the daughter of François ‘Le Grand’, who was to become the first woman to hold the position of ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin in the royal court, where she was harpsichordist to Louis XV and taught his daughters to play. All in all, the Couperins were as important a family in the development of French music as the Bachs were in Germany.

The first to appear on this disc is Louis, whose playing of his own and other compositions made such an impression on the king’s harpsichordist Jacques Champion de Chambonnières that he was taken to Paris to perform before the king. His suite is made up of a number of dance movements and is typical of the period. Here, Dorota Cybulska-Amsler seems to have taken seven pieces from the 122 pieces contained in the manuscrit Bauyn to construct a suite, a practice normal during the period. This results in an interesting and varied selection, especially as she places the Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher, in which Louis payed homage to the famous lutenist who had died in 1652 after he fell down some stairs, between the Passacaille in G minor and the Passacaille in C Major, whereas Skio Skemp, in his wonderful disc of 2017 (ALPHA 333), has it embedded in the Suite in C and Laurence Cummings plays it as a stand-alone piece (8.550922).

By far the finest and best-known of the music presented here is by François, who, along with Charpentier, is regarded as one of the greatest composers between Lully and Rameau. It is more reminiscent of the style brisé (broken style) of this period of French music, which leads to a ‘lute style’ of playing’. Rather than a suite of dances, the suite here is made up of a series of descriptive, titled pieces. The "Ordre 6ème de clavecin" in B-flat Major contains one of his most famous and popular of all pieces, Les Barricades Mystérieuses. It is a rondeau and is thought to represent the metaphorical barricade rather than any real physical obstacle, although François leaves no hint either way. We then jump to his third book and from the Ordre 18ème in F major we are treated to a single piece, Le tic-toc-choc, ou les maillotins. This calls for a great deal of dexterity, its fast finger work making it another showstopper which Dorota Cybulska-Amsler plays very well.

The third of the composer is Arman-Louis Couperin, the least known of the three presented here. I remember well from my days in Liverpool going into Dillon’s whose music department in the basement was run by a Canadian harpsichordist. She recommended a Harmonia Mundi LP of Arman-Louis’ harpsichord pieces; I have repeatedly looked to see if it has been released on CD, but sadly it has not. He was to follow his father Nicolas, himself an organist and composer, as organist at Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais, a position that his father had inherited from François ‘Le Grand’. He followed in the footsteps of his cousin in another way, too, in that he looked backwards in his music, adhering to the style of François, and was thus criticised for his failure to adopt a more forward-looking early classical technique. He refused to publish his church music, which is a shame, as he was by all accounts a highly talented composer of motets, and what remains is mainly pieces for the keyboard, again, sadly, not his organ works. We are told that Charles Burney was impressed by these and especially by Armand-Louis ability to improvise on his own compositions and those of others. The four pieces performed here represent a fraction of his harpsichord works, with his Pièces de clavecin Op. 1 containing twenty-five pieces; add to that his Op.2 set and his music for two harpsichords, and there is a lot to go at. Here we have a charmingly elegant Allemande, while the following Les cacqueteuses refers to the clucking not only of hens but also the wagging tongues of busy-bodies. On Arman-Louis Couperin’s death, when he was trampled by a horse after attending Vespers, he was succeeded by his son Gervais-François. His daughter, Celéste-Therese Couperin, who died in 1860, was the last-known musical member of the Couperin family.

Cybulska-Amsler proves a fine interpreter throughout this well-constructed and pleasing collection of pieces from the Couperin family. She plays with real panache and charm in places; this is carried over into the booklet notes she has written to accompany the disc, although I would rather have had some information about the instruments rather than just who made them - for instance, which of the three is used on each track. The crisp, clear acoustic of the recorded sound brings out the best from the instruments. This is an intelligent introduction to two lesser-known members of the Couperin family which I heartily recommend.

Stuart Sillitoe 



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