This recording by fine French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset exposes some music from beyond the famous names of the French Baroque. The central attraction is a pair of suites and three characteristic pieces by Louis Marchand, an organist at Versailles who is famous in musical history for having supposedly ducked an organ duel with J.S. Bach. His two suites recorded here were composed in 1702 and 1706, and thus are almost contemporary with the early Rameau Suite in A minor (1706), from his first book of keyboard suites. All the suites consist of a rhythmically free, quasi-improvised prelude followed by a series of stylized dances; three short character pieces by Marchand are also included as a sort of entr'acte.
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.
hristophe Rousset's first recording for Aparte, devoted to Louis Couperin, was received enthusiastically by public and critics alike and collected many distinctions in the international press, including a BBC Music Magazine Instrumental Choice. Since then he has continued to delight and excel both as harpsichordist and as director of Les Talens Lyriques. Now at the peak of his maturity, the artist presents Bach' musical testament: the Well-Tempered Clavier. Written 20 years after the first volume, Book II contains the musical and spiritual legacy of the composer. Christophe Rousset plays these pieces on the 1628 Ruckers harpsichord of Antwerp, one of the best examples of its kind in the world.
Doubtless history has been unkind to many composers. As unkind to Manuel García , truly, as it has been to Joaquín Gaztambide, Cristóbal Oudrid or Rafael Calleja. Doubtless, yes. But there's one point which should be clarified. Manuel García has been stigmatized as the “lost link” between Mozart and Rossini, an intermediate stepping stone towards the “Rossini Style” (!!), and yesterday's Teatro de la Zarzuela offering was duly defined by critics and opera buffs as “ Rossinian ”.
The packaging for this recording, though handsomely produced, gives a perplexing impression of the content of the CDs. The album's title (in French) is Philémon et Baucis, though there is no reference to that title in the extensive program notes, which focus exclusively on a work called Le Feste d'Apollo. In fact, Le Feste d'Apollo, premiered in 1769, consisted of a prologue and three unrelated short acts, each a self-contained opera, with texts by four different Italian poets. This CD set includes two of those operas, Aristeo and Bauci e Filemone, the third opera being an early version of Orfeo ed Eurydice written in 1762, 12 years before the definitive French version of Gluck's masterpiece.
French composers of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries delighted in adorning their pieces with foreign, in particular, Italian, elements, often calling attention to them in the titles. Among the most subtle transalpine stylists was Francois Couperin, who was refining the ‘French style’ and publishing his legacy in the form of harpsichord and chamber music. His contemporary, Marin Marais, contributed his own subtle essay in the exotic, a “Suitte d’un gout etranger” published in his Fourth Book of Pieces de une et a trois viole (1717), nearly 30 years after his First Book (the epitome of French viol playing) had appeared.