Couperin: Keyboard Works – I

2003-06-14 / / Jed Distler

FRANÇOIS COUPERIN Sixième Ordre; Dix-hutième Ordre; Huitième Ordre

Couperin on piano? The idea is not so far-fetched as it may seem. After all, none other than Johannes Brahms edited his complete keyboard music for Novello (aimed at pianists, of course). Romantic-era artists such as Ignace Jan Paderewski and Harold Bauer recorded La Bandoline and Le Carillon de Cythère, while Marcelle Meyer’s Couperin recordings reveal how plausible and expressive this music can sound on the concert grand. Closer to our time, the Russian pianist Gregory Sokolov has delved into Couperin’s oeuvre in concert, though not yet on disc.

However, Angela Hewitt’s first of three projected Couperin releases may well become a paradigm, a reference point for future pianists wishing to explore this repertoire. Anyone who claims that a modern grand’s sonority is too heavy or stylistically incongruous for doing justice to Couperin’s delicate textures and intricate embellishments simply hasn’t heard Hewitt. She’s a master of balancing lines against each other so that they stay vibrant and alive at any tempo, scaling dynamics with the utmost subtlety, and timing cadences with perfectly spaced single notes or rolled chords. Notice, for example, how Hewitt’s aptly chosen rubatos for Les Barricades Mistérieuses intensify the composer’s intended phrase displacements, or how Hewitt’s shifts in register replicate the harpsichord’s two-manual effect without drawing attention to them. And I wager that Hewitt’s early background as a dancer informs her unerring tempo choices. Hyperion’s excellent engineering plus Hewitt’s articulate, well-researched annotations enhance this altogether delectable release.