I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Couperin: Les Goüts-Réünis

Couperin wentz 8 François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau were perhaps, together, the high priests of the late French baroque. As harpsichordist/composers, they each found outlets for composition beyond the keyboard. Rameau, of course, was a somewhat successful composer of operas and, as a writer, a musical theorist/philosopher. Couperin, today, is remembered by me, especially, for his instrumental chamber music. He too wrote, with a guide for keyboard playing. I find his instrumental music very approachable, and I recently obtained the complete collection of his chamber music as recorded by Musica ad Rhenum, which I had the pleasure of hearing this year at the Lufthansa festival playing some of this very same music. In this recording, we get four concerts, from his collection called the Nouveaux Concerts. To my ears, they are more "modern" sounding than his more famous chamber suites known as Les Nations. They continue, however, Couperin's exploration of both Italian and French style. The first suite (5th concert) is a five-movement set of dances for flute and harpsichord. The director and soloist is Jed Wentz. The stereo separation puts Wentz on the left, with the harpsichord not far away, only somewhat bleeding over to the right side. The recording is done at a good balance; it's not miked too close, and despite the sense of an open space, there's ample detail. The dances each document Couperin's aim to mix the Italian and French styles. The French-ness, perhaps, interjects itself in an otherwise clean line, with ornaments that we now recognized as characteristically French. The same goes for dotted rhythms. I hear them today as "French," however it's still possible to see the "modernization" since Lully of the more straightforward melodies that we could label "Italian." In the second suite, the 6th concert, cello and harpsichord take up the bass with oboe as the soloist. In fact, they "stay on stage" for the remainder of the recording. The Air de Diable is marked Très viste, but it's not so overly done, as it likely could have been done, say, with recorder. Anna Starr is listed as the oboe player; she's captured in the same glowing sound as Wentz, but she lacks the same amount of finesse on her instrument as Wentz does on his own. It was evident in this fast movement. The next suite—the 7th concert—returns to flute as the soloist, with the double-continuo team of ter Haar on cello and Borgstede on harpsichord. In the opening Gravement, Wentz's tone is dreamy. It's softness is carried forth in the next movement, a jaunty Allemande. Here I wish for more bite in the articulation at the start of notes; with the faster tempo, would have been nice. We can blame the baroque flute or we can blame the distance of the mike from the instrument. An oboe, in contrast, "speaks" more at the start of notes. In fact, at the start of the fourth movement, marked Fuguéte, Wentz begins with a solo articulation of the theme, and it comes across just fine. It's just that the flute loses some of its balance in the mixture of three instruments together. I point this out, really, not to criticize the ensemble at all. Our perception of this quality can change depending on our physical location to the performers, the "mixture levels" in the recording, the qualities of the acoustic space, and in the end, the nature and "authenticity" of the instruments involved. And it's precisely the nature of older instruments and all their qualities—both those we admire and those that perhaps could be improved—that we have to accept when we re-create older sound worlds. Ultimately, that is what I admire about Musica ad Rhenum in this recording, that they have decided to "mix up" the instrumentation, to explore, ultimately, the different dimensions and subtleties of Couperin's sound world. The could have gone further by using violin as one of the lines, or by alternating gamba as a continuo instrument. But even within their means of using just four players, they achieve nice results. The last concert, marked as the "8th," is a Concert dans le goût Théatral. Wentz and Starr combine forces in the opening Ouverture playing in unison. This is no easy feat, staying in tune. They do an admirable job. In the fugal section of the overture, they break apart into two lines, and balance one another admirably. The remainder of the long suite (11 tracks total) features more solo flute and solo oboe, combined with unison passages with both soloists. The instrumentation and style of this piece, for me, is far more "French," with an excellent example being the Sarabande grave, et Tendre on track 24. The octave separation in the final movement between flute and oboe, seals the deal. Couperin may have flirted with Italian back with les Nations, but in the end he helped well-establish the best in French style.

Personal Music

Marchand and Rameau by Rousset