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Couperin Apotheoses AVSA9944
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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les Apothéoses
Le Parnasse ou l’Apothéose de Corelli: Grande Sonade, en Trio (1724) [13:20]
Concert Instrumental sous le titre d’Apothéose: Composé à la mémoire immortelle de l’incomparable Monsieur de Lully (1725) [33:37)
Monica Huggett (violin), Chiara Bachini (violin), Ton Koopman (harpsichord), Hopkinson Smith (theorbo), Bernard Hervé (reciter), Jordi Savall (bass viol and director)
rec. 19-22 March 1985, by Radio France, l’Église luthérienne Saint-Jean à Paris,
Hybrid SACD 5.1 surround/stereo - reviewed in surround stereo
ALIA VOX HERITAGE AVSA9944 SACD [47:02]

An apothéose is a paean of praise, an exaltation of artistic skill in which the subject was received onto Parnassus by Apollo himself. It became fashionable in Paris around the 1720s. Very few examples of the form have survived; these two by François Couperin border on unique. The one for Corelli is in the form of a Trio Sonata; that for Lully is a more extended suite of movements. Both works have descriptions attached to every section, so important to the understanding of events that a spoken narrative precedes each of them. For example, the first movements come with the words “Corelli at the foot of Parnassus begs the Muses to receive him into their midst” and “Lully in the Elysian Fields, concertizing with the lyric Shades”. The liner notes make it clear that it is vital to understand the descriptions if one is to grasp what Couperin is illustrating. If you do not speak French, have the booklet in front of you as you listen.

Such pieces may be thought grand and solemn or even dull. Not so. They are full of political wit and gentle musical humour. François Couperin was well aware of the divided opinions of his audiences, be they royal, aristocratic or the bourgeoisie. Everyone took sides on whether French or Italian music was to be regarded as best. His listeners were informed enough to know that Corelli was a great influence on every musician but, unfortunately, Italian. Lully was, evidently, French – but not quite. Giovanni Battista Lulli, born in Florence, was only a naturalised Frenchman. His rise to be the top man in French music and very much in charge of royal music, was the subject of much controversy, and thus ripe for gentle humour. His apothéose is full of clever musical jokes about the contrasts of the French and Italian styles. It explicitly illustrates the differences between Corelli and Lully as composers. Naturally, Couperin wishes to entertain his listeners, and this he does to the full, with pastiche, dances and virtuoso compositional skill. Even so, the subtext – always important – adds spice to the proceedings.

The booklet is packed with background and essential reading. The performances are as good as one could possibly expect from the great Jordi Savall and his fellow musicians, luminaries all. These 1985 stereo recordings have been skilfully remastered for SACD surround by the finest man in the field, Manuel Mohino. I have commented before on the superb quality of his work. Here he has excelled even by his own standards, producing a quite gorgeous, detailed yet spacious sound that could have been recorded in surround yesterday rather than in stereo 36 years ago. Faced with a disc of this quality, one can forgive the rather short measure. In any case, where were they going to find another apothéose to fill it up?

Dave Billinge



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