couperin keyboard naxos

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2003 and the recording is still available.

Louis Couperin (c1626-1661)
Keyboard Works
Glen Wilson (harpsichord)
rec. 2001, Schutt-Bau in Hofheim-Rügheim, Germany
Naxos 8.555936 [75]

Louis Couperin’s small corpus of surviving works is contained in two anthologies of his music grouped together in keys. Each of the groupings begins with a Prelude – some of the more extensive preludes have an independent place in the anthologies. As harpsichordist Glen Wilson writes in his notes the idea that these are in any real sense “suites” is an anachronism. The dance movements that became codified in later generations were as yet unordered in Couperin’s day, the player being free to select from the various available movements.

Glen Wilson plays a copy of a 1628 Ruckers, recorded in the Schutt-Bau in Hofheim-Rügheim, Lower Franconia. He has also, I notice, edited the Sixteen Préludes non mesurés for Breitkopf & Härtel and plays here with imaginative flair and a real insight into the notorious problem of Couperin’s free rhythm Preludes, the most concentratedly problematical aspect of his compositions. With its spatial and lateral depth the Prelude in D, with its listless, almost proto-romantic freedom could otherwise buckle into formlessness. Wilson however without stressing the metrical aspect keeps tension through control whilst giving free rein to the profoundly expressive material (notated in whole notes without barlines). Admirable as well is the complex seriousness he evokes in the Allemande in D and the acerbically dramatic Gigue in the same set. He gives real rhythmic life to the Prelude after Froberger and in the Prelude in F major he finds a just balance between sternness and affection. There is even greater gravity and weight in the Tombeau de M de Blancrocher, in F major, which Wilson plays with eloquent beauty, with its baleful bass interruptions giving notice of the saturnine and invincible forces ranged against life and an occasional obsessive concentration on its material.

Wilson is fine in the Courante – one of the pieces in G minor – where he galvanizes the rhythm whilst the right hand voicings, full of grandeur and nobility, course through the splendid Passacaille and sounding Handelian avant la lettre. The freedom encouraged by the preludes – for example the rather shorter one in C – is not, in Wilson’s hands, at the expense of rhythmic rectitude. Stylish gravity is mined in that set’s Courante and the crossed hands Courante that follows, with its rhythmic pitfalls and delicate filigree is negotiated with panache. It’s clear that Wilson doesn’t abjure dynamic variance – listen to the shadings in the Rigaudon and Double and his F sharp minor Prelude is freighted with tangible depth. The long Prelude (Toccade) in D minor illustrates flexibility of metre and a potentially discursive freedom without ever losing shape. This most enjoyable recital ends with the directness and simplicity of the Galliarde – an affirmative and joyful way to bid adieu to Couperin and to Glen Wilson and this enterprisingly sensitive disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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Five Pieces in D
Prelude (Toccade) in A minor (after M Froberger)
Prelude in F major
Tombeau de M de Blancrocher in F major
Five Pieces in G minor
Six Pieces in C
Prelude in A major
Pavane in F sharp minor
Prelude (Toccade) in D minor
Prelude in G major
Galliarde in G major