F Couperin

BBC Music Magazine - - Instrumental Reviews -

L’alchimiste: harp­si­chord works, Vol. 1:

Ber­trand Cuiller (harp­si­chord) Har­mo­nia Mundi HMM 902375.76 127:43 mins (2 discs)

2018 marks the 350th an­niver­sary of Couperin’s birth so it is to be ex­pected that harp­si­chordists be gal­vanised into ac­tiv­ity. This new re­lease promises to be the first by French harp­si­chordist Ber­trand Cuiller in what even­tu­ally will be a com­plete sur­vey of Couperin’s key­board oeu­vre which also in­cludes two or­gan masses.

Per­haps we should voice a spe­cial com­men­da­tion to Har­mo­nia Mundi for the am­bi­tious en­ter­prise since it has al­ready two com­plete record­ings of Couperin’s harp­si­chord pieces by Ken­neth Gilbert and Christophe Rous­set.

Pub­lished in four books over a pe­riod of 17 years the mu­sic is con­tained in 27 or­dres, a term which de­notes groups of pieces in re­lated keys, fall­ing some­where be­tween a suite and an an­thol­ogy. The ex­pres­sive range and sub­tlety of the pieces – enig­matic, ab­stract and doubt­less con­tain­ing an el­e­ment of metaphor – presents an elu­sive chal­lenge of mag­ni­tude to an in­ter­preter. For the most part Cuiller rises to the chal­lenge with com­mend­able at­ten­tion to or­na­ment and a com­fort­able feel­ing for just tempo. Subti­tled ‘Un pe­tit théJtre du monde’, sev­eral of the pieces re­fer di­rectly, or more usu­ally in­di­rectly, to the stage, but no more so than many of those which will ap­pear in later vol­umes.

Cuiller proves him­self ca­pa­ble of ex­tro­vert and in­ti­mate ges­tures in turn, as he demon­strates in the se­quence of pieces be­long­ing to his bit­ter-sweet por­trayal of the mu­si­cians’ guild of the Ménes­tran­dise (Or­dre No. 11) on the one hand, and the all-per­va­sive melan­choly of Les Re­grets (Or­dre No. 3) on the other.

All in all, this is a promis­ing start to what looks to be a ful­fill­ing project. Ni­cholas An­der­son



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