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Couperin: Les Nations Vol 2 / The Purcell Quartet


Release Date: 11/21/2006 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 729   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  François Couperin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Purcell Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

There can be little but praise for performances that are not only as technically accomplished as would be expected from such an accomplished ensemble, but capture every facet of the composer’s elusive style, bringing to the music the true spirit of the dance alongside its innate dignity and depth.

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COUPERIN Les nations: Ordres 3 & 4. L’art de toucher le clavecin: Préludes: in d; in g. Troisième concert à 2 Read more instruments à l’unisson 1 Purcell Qrt; Rebeka Rusó (vdg) 1 (period instruments) CHANDOS 729 (65:26)


The Purcell Quartet and Chandos have certainly been in no hurry to complete their issue of the four ordres that make up François Couperin’s Les nations , suites for two violins and continuo. The first disc was recorded in 2001, and reviewed by me in Fanfare 26:2. On that occasion, my verdict was that the performances of ordres 1 and 2 were marvelous, the review concluding with the fervent hope that the Purcells would complete the set with the remaining ordres . Well, here at last they have, a recording made in 2004 that has taken until the end of 2006 to be issued.


Fortunately, the long gap has not resulted in any loss of quality or change of approach, the performances being notable for a refined elegance that fully matches that of the earlier disc. As with the earlier ordres , those here—respectively entitled “L’Impériale,” and “La Piémontoise”—continue Couperin’s fascination with the concept of a synthesis between the French and Italian styles that he had already explored in previously published chamber works, most notably the Apothéoses devoted to Lully and Corelli. Both in fact open with a full-blown sonata da chiesa homage to Corelli that Couperin had written some years earlier, before continuing with a sequence of dances in the French style that the composer added. Little attention need be paid to the titles with which Couperin invested the suites, although “La Piémontoise” is probably a reference to a joke Couperin played when he wrote his first Italian sonata. He tells the story in the amusing Preface to Les nations (which also takes a swipe at critics) reprinted in the excellent notes in the booklet of the present CD.


Not the least remarkable feature of this music is the extraordinary variety of expressiveness and mood Couperin instilled into these at times tiny pieces. The opening sonata movements of “La Piémontoise” serve as a good example: the profound depths of sadness explored in the Gravement transmuted through a fugal Vivement, to another slow movement in which the two violins engage in searing suspensions over a “walking” bass, to a deliciously carefree Vivement, the overall seriousness of the sonata only confirmed by a surprising return to the mood of the opening in the final bars. Among the succeeding movements, Couperin gives us an elevated Allemande whose dignified grandeur is that of the gods rather than mortal dancers, and a sweetly expressive Sarabande.


The Concert for two viols à l’unisson comes from the second set of Concerts Royaux , and consists of four short movements, at the heart of which lies another deeply felt Sarabande. The two improvisatory préludes for solo harpsichord are well played by Robert Woolley, but their effect is rather undermined by the extremely resonant acoustic of the empty church in which they were recorded. Otherwise, there can again be little but praise for performances that are not only as technically accomplished as would be expected from such an accomplished ensemble, but again capture every facet of the composer’s elusive style, bringing to the music the true spirit of the dance alongside its innate dignity and depth. As noted in the earlier review, if you want Les nations complete on a single disc, the Jordi Savall’s elderly (1983) Astrée is probably the answer, but my advice would unquestionably be to splash out on the two eloquent and beautifully played Purcell Quartet CDs.


FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

1. L'art de toucher le clavecin: Prélude no 2 in D minor by François Couperin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Purcell Quartet
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1716; Paris, France 
2. Les nations: L'impériale by François Couperin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Purcell Quartet
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1726; Paris, France 
3. Les goûts réunis, ou Nouveaux concerts: no 13 in G major by François Couperin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Purcell Quartet
4. Trio Sonata for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo in G minor "L’astrée" by François Couperin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Purcell Quartet
Period: Baroque 
Written: France 

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