Couperin CD III on Hyperion

2006-01-08 / New York Times / James R. Oestreich

Couperin: Keyboard Music, Vol. 3

Angela Hewitt, pianist.
Hyperion CDA67520; CD

PERFORMING Bach’s keyboard works on piano, even those written specifically for harpsichord, no longer raises hackles – provided, of course, that the performance itself has merit. The pianist Angela Hewitt, like her Canadian compatriot Glenn Gould, has devoted much of her career to Bach, usually with excellent results.

But in recent years, Ms. Hewitt has also established a sideline specialty in the keyboard works of François Couperin, generally given a wider berth by pianists. Here she completes a three-CD survey of those works in typically fine style. Not that she has simply scooped up all the music. (To do so would require many more than three CD’s.) As she remarks in notes to this recording, she has taken care to choose the pieces which I think are the most interesting and the most suitable to performance on the modern piano.”

The main difficulty for pianists in Couperin is an effusion of embellishments, much easier to toss off without overemphasis, let alone clunkiness, on the harpsichord. Ms. Hewitt’s handling of all those fleeting lilts and curlicues is a model of lightness and elegance. As a result, little nothings like “Le Petit-Rien” in the 14th Order are sheer rippling delights. (Couperin’s harpsichord pieces are divided into 27 orders, gathered in four books.)

But at least as impressive is Ms. Hewitt’s sensitivity in the longer lyrical numbers, where grace counts for still more, as in “Le Rossignol-en-Amour” from the 14th Order, an evocation of a sweetly warbling nightingale, and “La Muse-Plantine” from the 19th, a tribute to the harpsichordist Mademoiselle de La Plante. Ms. Hewitt plays the 13th Order complete, and thus “Les Folies Françoises, ou Les Dominos,” a wonderfully varied series of miniportraits of figures at a masked ball. As with the disc as a whole, one item proves more delicious than the last.”