F. COUPERIN Les Nations: Première Ordre: “La Françoise”; Deuxième Ordre: “L’Espagnole”. REBEL Les Charactères de la danse • Florilegium (period instruments) • CHANNEL 33213 (SACD: 65: 33)
By the time his four ordres for chamber instrumentsRead more entitled Les Nations was published in 1726, François Couperin had already achieved a reputation as a master composer. His fame for characteristic music for the harpsichord was widespread, and a treatise on the art of playing it had firmly established him as the premiere composer for the instrument of his time. It is therefore not surprising that he turned his attention towards other chamber forms, especially the trio sonata, much of which was written for private court performance before being turned loose on the world.
The compilation of Les Nations was inspired both by his success and by his study of the differences between the French and Italian styles. Couperin was particularly an admirer of Archangelo Corelli, whom he acknowledges in the preface to the printed edition as being his musical forerunner for these works. Indeed, there are close similarities to that composer’s op. 1 Trio Sonatas in style, texture, and even the occasional melody. But Couperin was no slavish imitator; rather, he was continuing his characteristic exploration of how the traditional suite of alternating fast and slow dances would sound in the guise of each national style. To these he also prefaced a sonata, generally beginning with a solemn introduction and continuing through a series of four or five different tempos or miniature movements. These were not original works, but rather were variations of earlier compositions, such as La Pucelle and La Visionnaire, originally written back around 1696.
This disc consists of the first two Ordres comprising the French and Spanish sets; the remaining two, “L’Imperiale” (with its opening Sonata “La convalescente”) and “La Pièmontese” (with its Sonata “L’astrée”), are presumably to be issued separately, since the timing of each disc lies in that peculiar gray zone wherein a third set would be difficult to insert. This would explain the addition of one of Couperin’s friends, violinist Jean-Féry Rebel, of another characteristic trio sonata ordre entitled Les Caractères de la danse, which is a more conventional 10-minute suite. Reconciling the Italian and French styles might seem a bit of a stretch, but one must recall that Naples was at that point was transitioning between Spanish and Habsburg rule, and that the missing two ordres included reference to the last and to the Piedmont, an Italian region surrounding Turin that was an independent principality during the period. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Couperin included Spain, not for its unique rhythmic and melodic national style, but rather because it was a player in the geopolitical world of the early 17th century.
The suites themselves progress in a typical fashion. For example, the chaconne of the French ordre seems right out of a Lully ballet, with short, compartmentalized repetitions of the ostinato, somehow appearing texturally varied and larger than the chamber setting. There is considerable clever variation in the various themes, though it ends less magnificently as a ballet might have. The following gavotte has two layers, where the continuo and violins pair off nicely against each other in brief imitative roles. The opening sonata of the Spanish ordre is almost a homage to Corelli, a perfect church sonata, though with quite restrained counterpoint. There is nothing particularly Spanish about the dance movements that follow. The bourée, for instance, is as danceable a melody as one might find anywhere; one finds the two flutes literally dancing about each other in intertwined duet, while the addition of the violin during the “Double” that follows thickens the texture without altering the pace. This sets up a nicely stately passacaille, which again belongs to the world of Lully rather than the south.
The Rebel suite seems almost tame in comparison, though it does begin with a polite invitation to the dance, a prelude of two figures nodding to each other as the set begins. Here Rebel makes more use of the solo harpsichord, using its thinner texture as a lead-in to the faster courante, which has some allusions to a hornpipe. A bit later on, the chaconne is a mincing dainty piece in contrast to the virile Couperin. The work ends with a sprightly musette within which the instruments have some impressive virtuoso lines running all about (even the continuo).
The performance by the Florilegium is finely nuanced. The instruments blend well together and their nice attention to the rhythmic diversity of the works makes for an excellent performance. To be sure, there is a certain static quality of the dances, but the instruments manage to bring out the sometimes subtle differences in an engaging and appealing manner. This is not an academic performance, but rather one that gives life to the music. This is one set that should be in your collection, and I am awaiting the conclusion of the final two Ordres to complete the set.
Period: Baroque Written: 1726; Paris, France
Les caractères de la danseby Jean-Féry Rebel
Period: Baroque Written: 1715; Paris, France
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Strong start to Couperin cycleMarch 13, 2014By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA)See All My Reviews"Francois Couperin's 1726 work Les Nations consists of four sections, each one representing a different nationality: France, Spain, Imperial (Germany), and Piedmont (Italy). Each section is massive, consisting of a sonata followed by a suite. Florilegium performs the first two in this new release, with a second volume to follow L'imperiale and La piemontaise. The ensemble strikes just the right balance in their performances. Couperin's music sounds refined and elegant, but not bloodless. Some of the dance movements are quite spirited (in a tasteful fashion), and melodies flow with easy familiarity that bring these works to life. The performances are first-rate, as is the recording. If you have a choice between the SACD and the download, I recommend the former. This is intimate music-making, and the additional detail revealed in the SACD (including the sound of the harpsichord action) just adds to the richness of the listening experience."Report Abuse