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This is volume two of ‘Couperin the Alchemist’, in which his complete harpsichord music will form the central core, but including guests playing Couperin’s other repertoires. This recording focuses on ‘early’ works, with the first two ordres from Premier livre de pièces de clavecin (1713) together with the Pièces d’orgue (1690) containing the Messe pour les couvents and Messe pour les paroisses. The booklet contains essays on Couperin’s life when organist of Saint-Gervais (Denis Herlin), and on the use of plainchant in the organ Masses (Thomas van Essen). Les Meslanges perform the chant according to neo-Gallican reforms from the 1680s, accompanied (correctly) by a serpent, with pronunciation researched from Gillet- Vaudelin’s Instructions (1713). While the Cunctipotens genitor Deus chant is prescribed for the Paroisses Mass, Paul Damance’s Messe de Sainte Cecile (1687) chant is used for Messe pour les couvents.

Hearing the organ Masses juxtaposed with the harpsichord ordres adds strength to my conviction that the few ornaments in the organ sources, and all editions derived therefrom, are only tips of the iceberg, and that the music was intended to be played with many more ornaments. Both Cuiller and Ho recognise this, and so here the harpsichord and the organ interpretations are stylistically consistent. Both players use notes inégales in a loose and unpredictable manner, irrespective of genre, which in the basses de trompette and dialogues sur les grands jeux sometimestrivialise the music. More awareness of Italian influences (e.g. Corelli), and Couperin’s own statement about the performance of Italian music, is needed. All the instruments are well chosen, although the harpsichord recording is very resonant, and Cuiller’s habit of sustaining the dissonant auxiliaries in ornaments confuse the harmonies and textures. However, the interpretations are always interesting and stimulating, inspiring questions and further thoughts about performance practices in this music.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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