Christophe Rousset

Christophe Rousset plays Louis Couperin

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The organ music of Louis Couperin, an uncle of François, clearly pointed toward the French High Baroque style and has received a good number of recordings, but his harpsichord music is less fortunate. This is largely because they're imperfectly understood, at both the macro and micro levels. This release by celebrated French keyboardist Christophe Rousset contains half a dozen works designated as suites, but those are entirely his own creation. They exist only in manuscript, grouped mostly by dance rhythm; there are some ground bass pieces and some preludes without bar lines in a separate group. These are the subject of interpretive speculation, as well, and when Couperin's music began to come to light there were some rather woolly versions. Rousset's playing might be described as sensible, and it makes a good place to start for those curious about the sources of the highly stylized French harpsichord music of the early 18th century. Rousset assembles the pieces logically into suites in the same key, beginning with one of the preludes, followed by several dances, and concluding mostly with a passacaille (passacaglia) or chaconne. His playing is stately and rather sober throughout, doing nothing radical with the preludes but letting them set the tone for the rest of the music. Rousset arranges the dances so as to highlight one of the most attractive features of Couperin's music: its occasional tendency toward harmonic shock. Best of all, he uses an unusually old instrument, a 1658 harpsichord that fits the music to a T with its plummy, rather quiet, yet muscular sound. The music here is not François Couperin in chrysalis, but has distinctive charms of its own, and Rousset has done as well as anyone in getting at them. Booklet notes are in French and English.

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