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A new recording of François Couperin's complete works for harpsichord -
appreciated by

'... formidable technique and the deftest of touches.'

François Couperin: L'Oeuvre pour clavecin. Noëlle Spieth. © 2003 Disques du Solstice

There are some composers, neither obscure nor second-rate, who are badly served when it comes to obtaining current recordings of their work, at least in the UK. Such a one is François Couperin. There is, for example, a stunning recording -- surely definitive -- of the two Organ Masses and the Leçons de Ténèbre, under the direction of Olivier Vernet. But it's on a small French label, not under the aegis of one of the major distributors. If you want a copy, your best bet is to go to France, where they understand why Couperin is called 'le Grand'.

Things may change. After all, thanks mainly to William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, Charpentier has emerged from relative obscurity; and the great theatre composers, Lully and Rameau, are heard more and more. The former can now even boast a 'biopic': 'Le Roi Danse'. His colourful life and outrageously egotistic character lend themselves readily to such treatment. In the character of François Couperin, on the other hand, and the way it emerges in his music, there is something subtle, self-effacing and private which makes him a more elusive proposition. His is the art of the intimate, the oblique, the refined, all of which qualities have become almost suspect in our own brash times. For us, it is hard to use the word 'sentimental' as anything but a pejorative. How different from the world of eighteenth century France. 'Our music', Couperin wrote, 'whether it be for violin, harpsichord, viol or any other instrument, always seems to want to express some sentiment.'

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Copyright © 25 January 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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