Couperin: Suites Royales

Claire Gautrot viola da gamba, Marouan Mankar-Bennis harpsichord
encelade ECL 1902

It is understandable that Couperin’s keyboard oeuvre should over-shadow the rest of his output but the chamber music is scarcely disappointing! Here we have two suites originally designated for viol avec la basse chiffrée (pub. 1728) and one of the 1722 Concerts Royaux, for which any suitable melodic instruments can be used. Each suite is followed by a complementary movement from the harpsichord livres.

I regularly question the need for the multiplicity of continuo instruments we often hear in this repertoire so it is something of a relief to note that in this recital a harpsichord shows that it can do the job on its own – and rather well. Variety of texture, in particular, is used to great effect and the recorded balance is unfailingly excellent.

And so is the playing. The plangent tone of the viol, its infinite capacity for tonal shading and ability to convey delicate filigree makes it an ideal voice for this exquisite music. I defy anyone not to be tempted to repeat Pompe Funèbre, possibly more than once. So, if you share my love of the French Baroque, and even if you don’t, this is very rewarding listening, helped on its way by a sensible and quite substantial essay (in French and English).

David Hansell

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