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Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789)
Pièces de clavecin in G
Pièces de clavecin in B flat
Christophe Rousset (harpsichord)
rec. September 2017, Philharmonie de Paris, France APARTÉ AP236 [49:41+51:06]
I think back to the age of the black disc, and a visit at the record department of Dillon’s in Liverpool. The harpsichord-playing manager, a postgraduate student at Liverpool University, recommended an LP of Armand-Louis Couperin’s music. I dutifully bought it, and was hooked. I could never understand why the composer was poorly represented in the CD catalogues. His musical style is a development of that of the preceding French masters. Perhaps he was overshadowed by the great François Couperin but it certainly feels like neglect.
The few recordings I am aware of include one by Jennifer Paul (Klavier KCD-11041). I did not like it, so I gave it away. I remember finding the playing brash – not helped by the occasionally metallic-sounding instrument – and too quick and lacking repeats; for example, La Victoire took her half the time Christophe Rousset takes here. Otherwise I only note the odd track here or there. Dorota Cybulska-Amsler on a disc from earlier this year (DUX1547) plays enjoyably the harpsichord music by the Couperin family but includes a mere four pieces of Armand-Louis’s. So, the chance to review the recording by Rousset, the undoubted master of the French harpsichord repertoire, was too good to miss.
Armand-Louis Couperin and the best-known Louis and François were the most noteworthy musical members of the illustrious Couperin family. (There are more; for example, one calls the famous François ‘Le Grand’ to distinguish him from François the not so grand.) The music of each of the three has much offer to the listener. Armand-Louis made a synthesis of the great French school, and pointed towards the future, especially to Rameau.
The present collection, grouped into pieces in G and those in B flat, comes from 1751. The recital opens with Armand-Louis’s most famous pieces La Victoire, and concludes with Les quatre nations, a mini-suite representing the music of Italy, England, Germany and France. In between, we find dances such as minuets and gavottes, and descriptive pieces such as L'Arlequine ou la Adam or Les tendres Sentiments. The set is a fine example of the gallant style of French harpsichord music of the mid-eighteenth century, and these works rank alongside some of the best.
Christophe Rousset has honed his style of playing over many years. Here we get an effortless, masterful performance, well measured and well paced. It accentuates the elegance of Armand-Louis Couperin’s music, and the rather relaxed tempi help bring out the rich ornamentation. There is a sublime affinity with the music, so in this music Rousset outdoes everyone else in my experience. Denis Herlin’s informative booklet essay gives good biographical detail and insights into the music. All in all, this recording is a must for all eighteenth-century Francophiles. There is also the question of the instrument. Rousset always seems to have superior instruments at his disposal. Here, too, the harpsichord is as much a star as the performer and the music. Signed by Jean-Claude Goujan, a Parisian instrument maker from the first half of the eighteenth century, it was extended in 1784 by Jacques Joachim Swanen, also working in Paris. It has a lovely well-rounded tone and quiet action.
This highly recommended two-disc set has already given me hours of enjoyment.
La Victoire [6:10]
Courante, La de Croissy [4:53]
Les Cacqueteuses [2:50]
La Grégoire [4:32]
Premier menuet, deuxième menuet [3:12]
L'Arlequine ou la Adam, rondeau [2:33]
La Blanchet [3:21]
La de Boisgelou [4:17]
La Foucquet [2:44]
La Sémillante ou la Joly [5:23] Disc 2
La Turpin [5:20]
Première gavotte, seconde gavotte [4:17]
Premier menuet, second menuet [2:02]
La du Breüil [3:34]
La Chéron [3:05]
Les tendres Sentiments [3:33]
Rondeau gracieux [2:38]
Les quatre nations:
La Françoise [4:07]