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GRAMOPHONE (06/2012)
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3760127221500 (V32)

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Pierlot with Couperin’s celebration of national style


It is a neat idea to bring together Couperin’s complementary celebrations of the competing national styles of the mid-Baroque, two free form works for trio sonata forces which depict the entries into Parnassus of, respectively, Lully representing the French and Corelli the Italians. Couperin’s desire was always to meld the styles in a goût réüni, and nowhere is his intent more generously demonstrated than in the Apothéose de Lulli, in which Corelli and Lully are represented duetting on violins, each in his own manner as well as that of the other. Thus, despite feeling the need to string the works through with explanatory subtitles, Couperin is seeking essentially musical means to achieve his programmatic purpose, ingeniously and fascinatingly throwing extra emphasis on the very subject at hand.

The problem as far as listening goes is that both works are inevitably made up of several short sections and consequently struggle to build momentum. These performances have an actor reading out the French movement subtitles as well, which breaks things up even more and will surely irritate on repeated listening (with the booklet to hand they are not even necessary). The Ricercar Consort have perhaps been affected by this, for refined and accomplished as their playing undoubtedly is — the strings are clean and vibrant, the continuo gently sympathetic — the interpretations are a little low-key, seemingly uncertain whether to adopt the theatrical approach or to immerse themselves more in the music’s typically Couperinesque warm beauty. The sweet addition of flutes to the mix in the Apothéose de Lulli improves things in the latter regard but some movements are still a touch earthbound, considering the subject. An alert sense of rhetoric is evident in Rebel’s Tombeau de Monsieur Lully, which separates the two Couperin pieces, but overall this is a disc one wishes could engage more.

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