While I am merely passing conversant with the clavecin school of the French Baroque, I have a few fond memories of the music of Francois Couperin (1668-1733), mostly from early EMI records by Jean Casadesus and one wonderful LP by Igor Kipnis, whose rendition of Les barricades misterieuses transcends all other realizations. Angela Hewitt, already noted for her work in Bach and Chopin, turns her savvy attentions to Couperin, of which this is a third volume of thirty pieces she believes transcribe best to the modern piano. The major group is derived from the Treizieme Ordre in B Minor, a set of thirteen variants the composer calls Les Dominos, which uses a bass pattern similar to La Folia – which beguiled Corelli, Liszt, and Rachmaninov. In the manner of character-pieces, the various sections of Les Dominos delineate a series of humors attending a masked ball, which might suggest Ms. Hewitt next record Schumann’s Carnaval.
All the pieces enjoy a combination of delicacy and transparent articulation. Obviosuly, the modern piano can only approximate the texture of a two-manual harpsichord, but the suave legatos and quicksilver dotted notes manage their dextrous effects. The other major portion of the recital derives from the Quatorzieme Ordre, a series of ornamental meditations on being in love. Couperin’s music seems to me basically tinged with melancholy; even at the masked ball he is aloof – a lonely interloper who observes closely. Several of the pieces are musical portraits of contemporary personages, like Antoine Scott, King Louis XIV’s Maitre d’Hotel; and the entire Dixieme Ordre celebrates the theme of wine. Shades of Orff. One piece, Le Dodo, plays as a gentle rondeau in the form of a lullaby. La Lutine (the Elf) calls for some bouncy, quick facility in the manner of a toccata. L’Himen-amour, like Les barricades, presents obvious erotic imagery, with bagpipes and dervish figures, a consummation devoutly to be wished. Deft, even precious music and music-making, the set makes a rainy-day collection of subtle beauty. Purists can fend for themselves.