Rarified Couperin From A Living Legend

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

For her first commercial recording in nearly a decade, Blandine Verlet revisits the music of François Couperin, one of her great specialties. Although I am not familiar with her earlier out-of-print Astrée boxed set devoted to Couperin’s complete solo harpsichord works, Verlet’s present interpretations of the complete 7th, 8th, 25th, 26th, and 27th ordres are stunning in every way.

For starters, she uses an unusually resplendent instrument, a 1751 Henri Hemsch, restored by Anthony Sidey,  whose bass notes fill the room with all the warmth and tonal richness of a modern Steinway grand. Its middle and higher registers boast enough fullness and definition for articulations to speak with a seemingly boundless variety of plectrum strokes. And while the engineering places you in close proximity to Verlet, the ambience is full-bodied without being claustrophobic.

Secondly, Verlet’s controlled agogic freedom allows melodies to take their natural vocal shape and for ornaments to rise and fall with maximum expressive variety and harmonic tension. You especially notice this in the Seventh Ordre’s mini-suite Les petits ages, where the heavily embellished final movement “Les Délices” emerges in a veritable rainbow of timbres. Some may feel that her approach is rhetorical to a fault in the admittedly protracted “La misterieuse” from the 25th Ordre, especially when comparing Verlet’s latest thoughts alongside the more straightforward Olivier Baumont or Kenneth Gilbert recordings, yet I find Verlet’s conception intensely riveting. At the same time, the sense of a pliable pulse in the Eighth Ordre’s lengthy Passacaille belies the fact that Verlet’s basic tempo remains quite steady. Even selections utilizing more dulcet registration, like Les Ombres Errantes from the 35th Ordre, or Ordre 27’s gorgeous high-register piece Les Pavots, never fail to sing.

Technique and emotion, mastery and love fuse into a rarified artistic entity when Verlet plays Couperin. The booklet notes contain a charming, heartfelt original verse that shows Verlet to be almost as poetic on paper as she is at the harpsichord. It might be too much to ask a 71-year-old living legend to record Couperin’s remaining works anew, but let’s be grateful for these two-plus hours of baroque bliss, which prove all the more enchanting on repeated hearings. Indeed, listeners who normally are averse to the harpsichord might change their minds after experiencing Verlet’s genius captured in sumptuous sonic splendor.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Complete Works: Baumont (Warner Classics), Selected Works: Sempé (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)


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