Back in August of 2005 I did a brief review of this recording by Le Concert des Nations. Jordi Savall and Les Concert des Nations record Couperin's Concerts Royaux. François Couperin is one of the biggies in the world of French baroque. Primarily remembered for his keyboard works, he's also the Couperin that embraced the Italian style with his Les Nations early in his career. After hearing Jordi Savall live earlier this year, I picked up their recent recording of Couperin when I was in Philadelphia this summer. First, these works are suites. In fact, they are written for harpsichord. Yes, those Concerts Royaux. What happens then, when you add melody instruments and a continuo team on the same lines? You obviously get some interesting things going on; here we get flute, violin, gamba (of course), and harpsichord in a "read" interpretation of Couperin's four suites. Lively playing it is, well done all around, in a live, yet clear acoustic. This is happy music from a man who no doubt enjoyed his work. The tempi here sound faster, for the general run, than I get in my recording of the same works by Christophe Rousset. The edge is softer; the combination of baroque flute and gamba make for a soft, yet affective texture. The violin playing of Manfred Kraemer is a great sound; his violin blends-in so well with the other instruments. The dynamics used in a work like track 18 (last movement, 3rd suite), is what makes their playing as an ensemble a cut above others. This is true chamber music, but played with freshness, lightness, and at the same time, more color than I might imagine Couperin foresaw. This is a mature version, if you will, of his excellent Les Nations. Listening to this compared to my keyboard-only version, I take more interest in Couperin's contributions, but realize I never really liked the collection until I heard it performed by team Savall.
Highly recommended. French baroque is something we all ought to live with, and this CD rises to the top of stack representing the best of the era.
Hearing Couperin featured this past May at the Lufthansa Festival in London, I've been returning to his work, both on the harpsichord but also for chamber ensemble. What has stood out for me in this recording is the oboe… the instrument takes on color in affective ways, especially on notes that last a little longer. I also have appreciated the good recorded sound quality of this CD. It's closely miked, but with a nice acoustic space captured as well. During the more solemn numbers like theSarabande from the Premier Concert, there's a real dark richness that envelopes the ensemble. Also to note is the playing style employed on the violin; it's playful, in a way, and Kraemer takes on the French music with a decided sound in mind. This comes together in pieces like the Courante à l'Italienne from the quatrième concert. My only question is the emphasis in these works with the added instruments, such as the gamba and violin… the harpsichord has a decided back seat in all of this. When I queue up the same piece with my recording of the 3ième Livre with the Concerts Royaux by Christophe Rousset, it's of course all harpsichord. The Savall reading places the harpsichord in a continuo role. I can't help but wonder how Couperin would have performed these, himself at the clavecin and a few musicians to join him. Rameau's working of his Pièces en Concert was a little more equalizing. As ever, I recommend without reservation this recording by Savall's Le Concert des Nations.