Notes and Editorial Reviews
_Pièces de clavecin
Ordre 2; Ordre 4; Ordre 9;
L’art de touché le clavecin:
Preludes: in d; in f
Violaine Cochard (hpd); Pierre Hantaï (hpd)
NAÏVE 154 (2 CDs: 126:13)
It was Wanda Landowska who
perceptively called Couperin the “Chopin of the harpsichord.” Both are composers of extraordinary sensitivity and cultivation, whose uniquely idiomatic approach to their respective instruments was valued no less by their contemporaries than by posterity. Both left didactic works that remain indispensible: Couperin’s
L’art de touché
is as significant for harpsichordists as the Etudes of Chopin are for pianists. Yet Couperin’s widespread appeal has never rivaled that of Chopin. As the organist at Saint-Gervais, near the fashionable Marais district in Paris, and as music master to the royal household of Louis XIV, Couperin could afford to write for one of the most rarified audiences ever enjoyed by a musician. Possibly this aura of extreme refinement surrounding Couperin’s music, so
, makes him seem less approachable, less vital to contemporary ears than, say, his younger colleague Rameau. Yet, since Landowska’s pioneering championship, the insistence and dedication of several generations of harpsichordists have revealed aspects of Couperin’s genius, so that today no one doubts his central place among Baroque masters or his preeminence among the French. Now there is a young artist who may confidently take her place among those distinguished exponents of François “le grand.” Listening to her compelling interpretations, one feels as though she has loosened the Gordian knot, thrust back the veil, and shown the totality and complexity of Couperin in the full light of day. Here is all the wit, subtlety, and elegance we’ve come to expect. But here also is an ineffable sadness, a biting, sarcastic edge, and, occasionally, even a cunning savagery. Having long admired the courtier, at last we meet the man. The artist responsible for the introduction plays Couperin’s elaborate music without the slightest affectation; she understands and is able to impart the depth and variety of his art as though it were second nature. Her name is Violaine Cochard; we will be hearing more of her.
For this, her second solo recording of Couperin, Cochard chose the
from the first book of harpsichord pieces, published in 1713, and the
from the second book (1716–17). Two preludes from
L’art de touché
One of Cochard’s former teachers, Pierre Hantaï, puts in a cameo appearance in the first piece of the
, “Allemande à deux clavecins.” It’s pointless burdening a review with the futile effort of trying to describe in words the color, grace, and spirit that imbue these perfectly realized interpretations. Cochard enters into Couperin’s imaginative realm so completely, armed with such depth of understanding and intuition that, despite the small dimensions of many of these pieces, each stands revealed as a microcosm, unique and sufficient unto itself. At the end of both discs, one is left hungry for more. I would strongly suggest listening to this recording on the very best sound system available. The engineers have worked miracles conveying the wonderfully dimensional sound of the marvelous harpsichord Cochard uses. It is a restoration (or perhaps more aptly, given the fragments of the original that survived, a rebuilding) by Laurent Soumagnac of a rare instrument from Lyon that bears the signature of Joseph Collesse and the date September 9, 1748.
Other recordings of Couperin currently available are those of Pierre Hantaï (Mirare 27) and Blandine Verlet (Naïve 3003), though many other excellent ones, by Kenneth Gilbert and Christophe Rousset for instance, are no longer in print. Fortunately, we have Violaine Cochard’s ample selection, as beautiful as it is insightful and intriguing. Very highly recommended.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
Works on This Recording
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