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Harpsichord Suites
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I love the music of the French harpsichord composers. This music for the queenliest and most elegant of instruments combines beauty, stateliness and grace with flights of fancy and imagination. This CD on Naxos was recorded in 1993 and features the music of Louis Couperin (1626-- 1661). The uncle of the more famous Francois Couperin, Louis Couperin was a musician in the court of Louis XIII and himself the composer of highly innovative works for the harpsichord and other instruments. The harpsichordist Lawrence Cummings performs his music idiomatically on this CD, using a period-style instrument with period tuning. The use of period tuning means that some intervals are tuned perfectly with the consequence that other intervals sound out-of-tune to modern listeners. The "equal temprament" tuning used uniformly today was championed by J.S. Bach.

Early French harpsichord music derives from music for the lute with its arpeggios, stumming, and improvisatory character. Louis Couperin's "Tombeau d M. de Blancrocher" was composed to commemorate the 1654 death of a famous lutenist. This is an elegy in variation form, with many harmonic changes and shifts in register. The initial stately theme appears six times with increasing elaboration. This is a grand work of the harpsichord literature and a good place to start with Louis Couperin.

The remaining works on the CD are in the form of dance suites. As they have come down to us, the opening preludes (some 13 of them) were all printed together while the remaining movements were arranged by key and subsequently grouped into suites. There are four suites on this disk, in D major, A minor, C major, and F Major.

Couperin's most original moments are found in his preludes. These are free-form, improvisatory pieces which developed from the strumming and arpeggios that lutenists typically did in process of tuning their difficult instruments. Most of Louis Couperin's preludes are written without bar lines, emphasizing their improvisatory and fanciful character. But some of the preludes include both measured and unmeasured sections. Thus, the Prelude of the Suite in A minor, titled, "Prelude a l'imitation de Mr. Froberger" includes a slow, linear opening and close, both of which are unmeasured with a middle, faster fugal section based upon a tocatta of the Italian composer, Froberger. The prelude of the suite of F major is short but full of marked changes, beginning with a slow introduction, transitioning gracefully into a faster, gigue-like section, and concluding with a grand arpeggiated gesture.

In addition to the preludes, I also enjoyed Couperin's movements in variation form, the chaconnes of the suites in D major and F major and especially the long, elaborate passacalle which concludes the suite in C major.

Louis Couperin's suites include a good deal of contrasting material within and among the various movements. The A minor suite includes an especially ornate sarabande. Interspersed in each of the suites a short, lively movements juxtaposed with the more stately sections. Thus, the D major and the F major suites each include a fast court dance known as the gailliarde. The A minor suite includes an unusually light courante styled "Courante La Mignonne" together with an unusual, flashy movement called "La Piemontoise". The F major suite includes a gigue and a short, showy piece called "Branle de Basque".

I am pleased that this CD has attracted several reviews on this site, some of them recent. I hope the attention signals a growing interest in the harpsichord and in the composers who wrote for it.

Robin Friedman
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The bargain price, excellent sound quality, rarity of the repertoire, and the use of an instrument tuned to the antique style of "mean tone" temperament on this recording make it attractively tempting.
A frustrating drawback, alas, is that the playing is very wobbly with tempo and rubato fluctuating almost continuously. While the latter approach is appropriate to the Prelude-like movements on the program (after all, Couperin wrote these without specifying rhythmic or metrical values!), it is neither required nor appropriate at all for the dance movements.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
Pour le prix, une belle découverte.

Je ne suis pas un pédagogue du clavecin,

mais il me semble de Laurence C. respecte l'aspect «français»

de ces pièces. Le touché est posé, articulé «à la française»,

ce qui évite la sonorité brouillonne.

Suggestion: écoutez ce disque en regardant des photos d'album

de l'époque de Louis XIV. ...pour la rêverie.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2009
The tuning and intonation of the instrument is beautiful, the playing is stunning. I wish I could give this CD 6 stars. Though much of the 17th century English repertoire leaves me completely cold, and many performances of Louis Couperin's music are overly "antiqued", this one is perfect. I am coming to the conclusion, anyway, that Louis Couperin was actually a greater talent than his nephew Francois. Maybe his short career (and short life) saved him from turning out too much music. In any event, there is nothing facile or repetitive in Louis Couperin's works. The modulations we have come to expect in the baroque and especially the "classical" idiom, were developed later. What we have here is a chord progression that is much less predictable, less constrained. If you are a little peeved that in baroque music you can always guess what's coming next, Louis Couperin is a pleasantly liberating experience.

We don't really knows how the music of the past was meant to be played. Every performer proposes more than a "performance", there's a whole battery of ideas behind a great performance. Cummings' playing is wobbly ? I think not. The idea that dance pieces should be played metronomically is based on an assumption, namely that these pieces were actually danced to, and in a stiff/robotic way. I rather think the dance rhythms and forms were used as a structure and framework. Besides, I can see nothing strange about an Allemande with rubato being danced to, with greater expression. In any case, unless you have an urge to dance Allemandes in a very Prussian way, you can relax and enjoy this remarkable recording.

If you are unfamiliar with Harpsichord music of the 17th century, this is a great place to start, it's a CD you will be playing over and over, I guarantee it.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2005
There are very few harpsichords available on CDs that sound so lovely like this one ! L Couperins music can be the most beautiful french music if it is played on an appropriate ,excellent instrument. and the performance here by Mr Cummings is so perfect, passionate, fancinating that seeing the blank star on the item makes me uneasy . so i can no longer keep silent.
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on December 2, 2014
The whole process went fine.
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