The 350th anniversary of François Couperin's birth evoked less activity than other anniversaries in the year 2018, when this album appeared, but if you missed it you might find this a worthwhile acquisition as a state-of-the-art Couperin performance. Harpsichordist/director Christophe Rousset and his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques are lyrical indeed in the set of trio sonatas called Les Nations, "the nations." The set purports to evoke four nations: France, Spain, L'Imperiale (the Holy Roman Empire), and La piémontaise (the Piedmont kingdom, in Italy). Whatever features might have suggested these national styles are hard to hear now, and really Les Nations is above all one of the works in which Couperin cultivated what he called elsewhere les goûts réunis, the "reunited" tastes of Italy and France. In the four Nations, his solution was unique: each of the four parts consists of a little Corellian Italian sonade, or sonata, with its own four sections compacted into a single movement, followed by suite of French dances. You might wonder why trio sonatas would require the larger ensemble of Les Talens Lyriques, but this works: the set probably would not have been performed at a stretch in Couperin's time, and Rousset changes things up with varying forces. Best of all, the playing of Rousset's group is honed to a delightful languor, a smoothness and grace that have rarely been equaled in the historical-performance sphere. The sarabandes get flutes instead of violins, and you could sample the one from the Impériale suite for a taste. Browse the paintings of Lancret or Watteau while you do, and you may experience peak French. Just lovely.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Premier Ordre: La Française: Sonade Gravement - Gaiement - Rondement - Gaiement - Gravement Vivement - Air: Gracieusement - Gaiement
Second Ordre: L'Espagnole: Sonade Gravement et mesuré - Vivement - Affectueusement - Légèrement Gaiement - Gaiement - Air tendre - Vivement et marqué
Track Listing - Disc 2
Troisième Ordre: L'Impériale: Sonade Gravement - Vivement et marqué - Gravement et marqué Légèrement - Rondement - Vivement
Quatrième Ordre: La Piémontaise: Sonade Gravement et rondement - Vivement - Gravement Vivement et marqué - Air: Gracieusement - Second Air Gravement et marqué - Légèrement