Sunday, August 1, 2010

In review--Couperin, anyone?

Christophe Rousset
Louis Couperin (1626-1661)
Harmonia Mundi

Early baroque composer Louis Couperin, not to be confused with his nephew François Couperin, composed amazingly gorgeous suites for harpsichord. While I know little about the Couperin musical dynasty of France, I have enjoyed harpsichord master/baroque music expert Christophe Rousset’s performance of Louis Couperin’s harpsichord suites. The range and emotional depth of these suites can hardly be contained on 2 compact discs and as each disc ends an urge to press the play button surfaces. There is nothing like the regal and distant sound of a harpsichord when performed by a master musician. The shimmering notes, the lilting rhythms, and sensitivity of this instrument invite us to step back in time a few hundred years.

This recording contains 6 suites reconstructed by Rousset and each suite contains a number of baroque dances, mostly French with the sarabande hailing from Spain (from what I read recently the shady roots of the sarabande would feel right at home with the saucy tango roots of a more recent century). The variety of moods, rhythms, and tempos make for a lively musical journey. Rousset performs these suites with great enthusiasm and intuitive verve. He performs the suites on harpsichord designed by Louis Denis (1658) that was restored by Reinhard Von Nagel (2004-05). The tones that ring out from the instrument fall nothing short of miraculous—warm, honeyed, and vivacious. The marriage between the instrument and the performer as well as the choice of suites provides for an intense listening experience.

With so many dances provided here, it’s hard to choose a favorite or even favorites, but track 19 off of disc one, Passacaille from Suite en Do majeur certainly warms my heart. Also on disc two, the haunting Pèlude to suite en rè mineur dazzles my senses, though on the melancholic side. All the dances could become favorites in a short time since Rousset gives loving attention to each of them. I was never a huge fan of solo harpsichord music, until listening to Louis Couperin. I enjoyed the harpsichord playing in ensembles with lutes, and strings, but hearing it stand alone on this recording, I finally hear the depth and intensity of this baroque instrument. And I think Christophe Rousset has just earned another aficionada.

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