I'm only guessing here, but if you're a typical classical-music fan, you probably recognize the name Francois Couperin (1668-1733), the French Baroque composer, organist, harpsichordist, and probably most famous member of the musically talented Couperin family. What you may not be able to do, however, is name a few of his compositions or whistle a couple of tunes he wrote. Which is why a recording like this one, "Concerts Royaux," from Christophe Rousset and members of his Les Talens ensemble comes in handy.
Yes, the composer is mainly known today for his keyboard works, but he wrote a number of pieces for chamber groups and various combinations of instruments. Couperin, being worried about so many inaccurate copies of his works that were circulating, decided to publish them himself, which he did between 1722-1728. He published "Concerts Royaux," the first of five volumes, in 1722, and they included the music on the current disc.
The title, "Royal Concerts," derives from their being written for King Louis XIV and comprise four harpsichord suites originally composed in 1714-1715 and played at the royal court. Couperin also left notes indicating that the instrumentation could be left to the musicians' discretion. Nor did the composer intend these pieces as true suites, but rather as collections of individual works put together according to his mood at the time. So, these days there is plenty of room for experimentation regarding the instruments in play.
Couperin assembled the four suites from preludes, airs, and mainly dances, allemandes, sarabandes, gavottes, gigues, minuets, courantes, chaconnes, forlanes, and the like. What's more, most of the dances were of the slow, stately type, so the music is largely comfortable and relaxing, if not a tad melancholy. This might, though, be a relief from the many hurried, sometimes helter-skelter baroque compositions we often encounter. Rousset and his crew present each suite with a healthy dose of grace, polish, and restraint.
Of the four suites, the booklet writer, Erik Kocevar, says the fourth is "without a doubt the finest of the four, and the most consistent in the quality of its parts." I would agree. The fourth suite displays the greatest variety, imagination, and refinement of the four. Nonetheless, for that matter, I doubt I could remember one suite from the other if I listened to them again a few minutes apart. While they are pleasantly attractive, there is a sameness about them that probably only makes them distinguishable to Couperin or Baroque connoisseurs. Kind of like what all of our grandparents said about pop music.
Be aware that despite the disc containing four separate suites of music of five to seven movements each, the movements themselves are quite short, the longest being about four minutes, the others two or three minutes. Thus, the entire running time of the album is less than an hour. Not that I would pose any objection. To have packed it out with miscellaneous Couperin items simply for the sake of filling out the disc space might have been distracting.
Producer Clement Rousset and engineers Clement Rousset and Thimothee Langlois with the studio Little Tribeca recorded the music at Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne Saint-Pierre, Paris in December 2015. The sound appears a bit close, yet it's warm and round, too. Individual instruments show good detail and the ensemble a modicum of depth, although there being so few instruments it really doesn't much matter. Definition is, as I say, good and projects a clean presence. Low notes are a little on the woolly side but highs sparkle, so overall definition is fine. Nor is the harpsichord always noticeable, but, then, I've never heard this group in a concert performance, so what do I know? Certainly, the music is easy on the ears.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: