Angela Hewitt’s second Couperin CD (rec. 2003) devotes itself to the fourth book of Pieces de Clavecin, the composer’s last published work (1730). A mood of melancholy and mystery pervades many of the selections, with Couperin exploring foreign keys and chromatic tonalities, F Sharp Major and F Sharp Minor, for example. The texture favors the treble part of the keyboard, as in Les Pavots from the 27th Ordre, which, when coupled with Couperin’s penchant for counterpoint, offers some poignantly diaphanous sonorities. Take Les Ombres Errantes, for instance, whose title suggests Lost Souls, and seems to adumbrate the melancholy we find in Schumann’s harmony. Rife with sighs, suspensions, and dark chromatic scales, its concentrated emotion is worthy of Gesualdo. The entire Vingt-Unieme Ordre is set in E Minor, and the first of its pieces is entitled The Queen of Hearts. Is this passionate salon-music celebrating an unhappy love affair? After a reservedly gay La Bondissante, Couperin himself appears in the form of an allemande in somber colors, utilizing an ascending four-note riff. La Harpee employs close imitation, perhaps a sarcastic argument. The ordre ends with a kind of Debussian irony: La Petite Pince-sans-rire is a chromatic character-piece suggestive of a back-stabbing wit.
Hewitt plays two selections from the Vingt-Quatrieme Ordre Major, the first of which, translated Fatal Darts (of Cupid), is a rondeau that more than resembles Bach’s famous Menuet. L’Amphibie is less aquatic than purely mercurial, a long piece which keeps breaking away from any prefabricated structure, a passacaglia which refuses to conform, and its mood swings are just as random. The last two orders, Vingt-Sixieme (F Sharp Minor) and Vingt-Septieme (B Minor), contain many wonderful pieces, among which La Convalescente describes Couperin himself in, again, an allemande rife with pre-Schumann harmonies. After a pert Gavotte comes Sophie, a whirling moment of repetition, then a last, hauntingly delicate rondeau from Couperin, L’Epineuse, The Thorny One, in six sharps. Just like one of Schumann’s maerchen, La Pantomime is a character-study in sprightly march tempo, a study of an Italian actor of the period.
The last ordre consists of four pieces, a sort of church-sonata. L’Exquise is a noble allemande much like Bach and pointing to Debussy. The Poppies is a treble-clef, soporific piece in parallel thirds and sixths. Les Chinois is a loure, a slow, French (not Chinese) gig that Bach used in his solo violin sonatas; a jaunty, fast section appears then disappears. The final work, Saillie (Sally of Wit) is rife with incongruous elements and knotty upbeats in imitation, the soul of wit. Wit, tenderness, and sensibility–these essential elements of the Couperin style Hewitt provides with grace and scholarly affection, her Steinway piano singing in glorious Technicolor.
— Gary Lemco