Release Date: 01/08/2008
Label:MirareCatalog #: 27
Spars Code: DDD Composer: François Couperin Performer: Pierre Hantaï Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo
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This is a wonderful recording, quite possibly the best Couperin on disc I’ve heard. I am also delighted that Hantaï has arranged his program to include among the pieces extracted from the suites two of the preludes from L’art de toucher le clavecin . Urgently recommended.
F. COUPERIN Les vieux seigneurs. La princesse de Chabeuil, ou la muse de Monaco. L’évaporée. La Flore. Menuet. L’Amphibie. Les fauvettes plaintives. L’artiste. La Linotte effarouchée. Le carillon de Cithère. L’allégresse des vainqueurs. L’art de toucher le clavecin: Prelude No. 6; Prelude No. 8. Read moreSaillie. Les folies françaises, ou les dominos. Les roseaux. La petite pince-sans-rire. L’Anguille. Menuets croisés. Les tours de passe-passe • Pierre Hantaï (hpd) • MIRARE 27 (65:49)
My inaugural contribution to Fanfare was a review in 27:2 of Angela Hewitt’s first installment on Hyperion of François Couperin’s Pièces de Clavecin. In that review, I praised Hewitt’s playing, her musical sensitivity, and her artistic integrity; but at great length and in painstaking detail I went on to argue that of all 18th-century composers’ keyboard works, Couperin’s were among the least suitable for transfer to the piano. The argument was not one of period or historical vs. modern instruments, but rather the mechanical shortcomings of the piano in being able to reproduce Couperin’s musical anthropomorphisms.
So obsessed was Couperin with the exactitude of execution, and fearful that players would not understand or follow his meticulous instructions, he published a treatise, L’art de toucher le clavecin, with eight preludes as musical examples, that explained in detail his fingerings, ornaments, notation, and notes inégales.
If you do not know Couperin’s body of work amassed under the title of Pièces de Clavecin, you really should. It is to the French Baroque what Bach’s Clavierübung, Well-Tempered Clavier, and The Art of Fugue are to the German Baroque. Statistically, Couperin’s numbers are staggering. The Pièces de Clavecin consists of 27 suites, called Ordres, collected into four volumes or books, called Livres. Each suite may contain as few as four movements (pieces) to as many as 18. The reason the suites conform neither in style nor to the more or less standard and more familiar configuration of movements of the Baroque form is that Couperin favored the pièce de caractère over the dance-derived model. This can be seen in the current collection with titles such as those found in the headnote.
Pierre Hantaï is well represented on a number of recordings, both as soloist and as participant in several period ensembles. The designation of this new release as Volume 1 indicates that Hantaï has embarked upon a project to record Couperin’s entire Pièces de Clavecin. His approach, based on this initial release, is, with one exception, to “mix it up”; i.e., to offer individual pieces from across the board of the four books and 27 suites in no particular order. Thus, for the most part, we get a sampling of the whole rather than of integral suites. The one exception is Les folies françaises, ou les dominos, the 13th Suite from Book 3, which Hantaï presents complete. Given that the suites follow no particular sequence of movements and that the pieces therein are of a musique characteristique nature, there is nothing fundamentally objectionable about this approach. I would even go so far as to suggest (throwing caution to the winds) that none of the suites would be seriously harmed by switching movements from one to another.
Hantaï’s harpsichord is an absolutely exquisite instrument, not a newly built copy, but a completely restored “wreck” of a grand clavier from 1748 by Lyon maker Joseph Collesse. Restoration, which took 10 years, was carried out by Laurent Soumagnac who, in 2004, won a SEMA award for restoration and conservation. Not only is the sound of the instrument one of the most beautiful I’ve heard—bright but not clangorous, 100-percent pitch stable, and with ringing overtones that project with a clarion, bell-like quality—but the acoustic setting of the recording, which I could not find stated anywhere in the printed material, save for a reference to “recorded in Haarlem in 2007,” could not be more perfect.
While this repertoire has been tackled more or less complete before by Olivier Baumont, Kenneth Gilbert, Scott Ross, Christophe Rousset, and Blandine Verlet, as far as I know, they are all currently either out of print or in hiding. Anything resembling a set integrale is pretty scarce right now. Besides, with the exception of Michael Borgstede’s set on the budget Brilliant Classics label, any complete œuvre that requires 11 or 12 discs is bound to have limited appeal, especially to the cost conscious. Add to that the fact that for many, Couperin is probably a somewhat esoteric acquired taste, and the market shrinks further.
That is why single disc samplers like this one are so welcome. They provide a chance for the unfamiliar to acquaint themselves with a body of work for minimal risk and, one hopes, to respond positively enough to it so that when the next installment appears they will snap it up. This is a wonderful recording, quite possibly the best Couperin on disc I’ve heard. I am also delighted that Hantaï has arranged his program to include among the pieces extracted from the suites two of the preludes from L’art de toucher le clavecin. Urgently recommended.
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