Richard: Professeur du Roy Soleil
Fabien Armengaud harpsichord
L’Encelade ECL 190
The Bauyn manuscript is most famous as a major source of keyboard music by Chambonnières and Louis Couperin, but it has a third layer in which can be found the music of Richard, harpsichord teacher to none other than Louis XIV. There are three suites by him in the programme, surrounded by the music of his contemporaries, both illustrious (d’Anglebert, etc.) and shadowy (Jacques Hardel, etc.). The suggestion is that these pieces may have been part of Richard’s teaching repertoire, though the point is not forced.
The instrument (modern, but ‘in the spirit of French instruments of the last decades of the 17th century’) is quite brightly voiced and closely recorded so you may find a lower than usual volume setting is desirable, especially if listening through headphones. It is very well-tuned, both in terms of the temperament chosen and the accuracy of the octaves, and I didn’t mind the occasional mechanical noise – usually the shove coupler being (de)activated – though there are a few moments when the dampers could have done a better job at the end of a piece. Its resources (three registers on two manuals) are deployed sensibly.
This is very committed playing, with sprightly ornamentation, determined (in a good way) to make the best possible case for this little-known music though an extra layer of enjoyment can be detected in the luxuriant textures of the Louis Couperin Passacaille that closes the programme.
The supporting essay (in French and English) is informal in style but manages to stay on the right side of ‘gushy’ and tells us what we need to know. This is a valuable issue, not just in itself but for the wider context that it provides for the keyboard masterpieces of the period and the insight into the Sun King’s skills and taste.