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Couperin: Les Nations / Jed Wentz, Musica Ad Rhenum

Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94427  
Composer:  François Couperin
Performer:  Michiel NiessenJob Ter HaarCassandra L. LuckhardtJed Wentz,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

COUPERIN Les Nations Jed Wentz, cond; Musica ad Rhenum (period instruments) BRILLIANT 94427 (2 CDs: 97:67)

There is little that bugs me more than when booklet notes begin by invidious comparisons. Such is the case with this disc, where the opening paragraphs start with the statement: “The life of François Couperin stands in marked contrast to that of J. S. Bach,” and asks the rather non-sequitur rhetorical question: “What would Couperin, the cosmopolitan Parisian, have thought of Bach’s Teutonic Read more music?” Given that we have long since discarded the notion that everything must be compared to Bach, the status of this important French composer need hardly be described in such terms, especially given the entirely different musical sphere in which he worked, in order to justify the music at hand. Rant completed, what we have here really is a set of trio sonatas entitled Sonades et Suites de Simphonies en Trio , which is about as generically diverse as one might wish to have. Published in 1726, these works, grouped loosely under the rubric Les Nations , consists of four “orders” or sets of dances arranged as extensive baroque suites, each beginning with a French “Overture,” in this instance a brief two-movement set with a slow movement featuring dotted rhythms and a more vivacious and sometimes contrapuntal colophon. Thereafter follow a series of alternating fast and slow dances geared, as is Couperin’s wont, towards characteristic forms as well as specific “national” bits and pieces. Here, the composer includes a couple of his rather more personalized characterizations, such as the “Prélude de Monsieur Hotteterre” in the first Ordre (for solo flute, Hotteterre’s instrument) or his own Prélude in the third (though of course “M. Couperin” could also refer to another member of his prolifically musical family). The four nations are France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire ( L’Imperiale ), and Piedmont, but if one is looking for any characteristic dance rhythms from these regions, one will be disappointed. All of the movements are thoroughly French, and one supposes that the depiction of nationality could have been more of an inside joke than descriptive.

Les Nations is currently available in a number of recordings, including a two-disc set on Chaconne, on Ambronay with Les Ombres, and a rather nice one from 2006 on Accent with the Kuijken Ensemble, recorded about the same time as this disc. All of them interpret Couperin in various ways, and here the Musica Ad Rhenum gives a rather literal interpretation of the rapidly moving dances. Personally, I like their tumbling flutes in the “Double del la Bourée” of the second ordre, and the nice playful “Gigue d’un légérété” from the third. In that one, the final minuet seems quite perfunctory after the nice evolving and lengthy chaconne that precedes it. The music, though focusing upon finely conceived ornaments to give it some life, is always polite and genteel, hardly anything that would evoke either a charge of modernity or of profundity. This is music meant for subtle enjoyment by a well-mannered and well-bred audience.

In terms of performance practice, the composer writes rather generically, with virtually no real indications of which instruments in the trio sonatas are to play which lines. To be sure, the basse ought to be some sort of continuo group with the harpsichord as the foundation, but the melodic lines were meant probably to be performed by whatever instruments were available or could play the parts. Leader Jed Wentz has chosen to employ an ensemble as represented by a contemporaneous work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier; that is, pairs of flutes and violins, with a bass viol, gamba, and theorbo supplementing the continuo group. In addition, he also adds piccolos, oboes and bassoons at times to vary the texture, but given the generic nature of Couperin’s settings, this should not raise too many eyebrows. What is remarkable is that the tempos are sometimes on the fast side, but Wentz also explains that freedom of tempo is commented on as early as Jean-Philippe Rameau, a point well taken. Although recorded half a decade ago or more, this version does stand up well to the competition, and I suppose that one of the chief reasons for having it in one’s collection would be that the performances are quite nice and the transparent quality of the sound makes it much more intimate. Plus, one might note that the price is right. So, if you are looking to fill a gap in your library, this is certainly a version to consider.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

Les nations by François Couperin
Performer:  Michiel Niessen (Lute), Job Ter Haar (Cello), Cassandra L. Luckhardt (Viola Da Gamba),
Jed Wentz (Flute), Stefano Rossi (Violin), Marion Moonen (Flute),
Ayako Matsunaga (Violin), Michael Borgstede (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1726; Paris, France 

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