musica Dei donum
"Music of François and Armand-Louis Couperin"
Matthew Dirst, harpsichord
rec: Jan 2004, Portola Valley, CA, Pony Tracks Range
Centaur - CRC 3016 (© 2010) (68'15")
Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789):
Gavottes I & II ;
La de Boisgelou ;
La Blanchet ;
Le Chéron ;
Les Tendres Sentimens ;
Minuets I & II ;
François COUPERIN (1668-1733):
4e Ordre in F: Le Réveil-matin ;
18e Ordre in f: La Verneüil; Soeur Monique ;
23e Ordre in F: Les Satires Chevre-pieds ;
24e Ordre in A 
François Couperin,  Premier livre de clavecin, 1713;
 Troisième livre de clavecin, 1722;
 Quatrième livre de clavecin, 1730;
 Armand-Louis Couperin, Pièces de clavecin, 1751
With François Couperin the rich tradition of the French clavecinistes came to its climax. In his large oeuvre for his main instrument we also see the development in the fashion around 1700. Whereas in the second half of the 17th century most harpsichord music was printed as suites of dances, in Couperin's ordres as he called them, divided over four books, character pieces prevail. Only some ordres contain the traditional dance movements.
Matthew Dirst has made a choice from the Ordres 4, 18 and 23 and plays the complete 24e Ordre. He has chosen only character pieces which are quite different in character. Some refer to personalities from Couperin's social environment or from public life in France, like 'La Belle Javotte' from the 24e Ordre which was originally called 'L'Infante', referring to the childhood fiancé of Louis XV. Others express phenemona from everyday life; an example is 'Le Réveil-matin', the morning alarm. But there are also many pieces which allow various interpretations. The 24e Ordre, for instance, ends with 'L'Amphibie' which refers to a category of animals. But according to Matthew Dirst Couperin here depicts "what we might call a dissembler: an individual whose personality (...) changes at the drop of a hat". It is quite possible, though, that more than one interpretation is allowed, and that Couperin may deliberately has given double meanings to his titles.
It is interesting that Dirst has included some pieces by Armand-Louis Couperin as well. He was the grandson of François' uncle Louis. When his father Nicolas died he took over his position as organist of St Gervais. He married a daughter of the famous harpsichord maker Blanchet; 'La Blanchet' from his Pièces de clavecin is a portrait of his wife. His harpsichord pieces show the changes in the musical fashion during the mid-18th century. His character pieces are more exuberant and more demonstratively brilliant than François' ordres. That sometimes can lead to a little superficiality and lack of substance. 'La de Boisgelou' is an example of a brilliant and extraverted piece, focussing on effects. 'La Chéron', on the other hand, is a wonderful piece with some passages of daring harmony. 'Les Tendres Sentiments' is also a beautiful piece, although in a clearly different language from François Couperin's.
Matthew Dirst has put together an interesting programme, showing the change of taste in the first half of the 18th century. He plays on a beautiful instrument by John Phillips, a copy of a harpsichord by Nicolas Dumont from 1707. I had never heard him before, and I am impressed by the way he performs this programme. In the very first piece, 'La Verneuïl', I was struck by the subtlely of his notes inégales. His playing is relaxed, without showing off his prowess, but concentrating on the content of the pieces he has chosen. The contrasts between these are convincingly worked out, like between the opening pieces from the 24e Ordre, 'Les Vieux Seigneurs' and 'Les Jeunes Seigneurs'. The virtuosity of Armand-Louis' pieces comes off equally well, but he resists any temptation to exaggerate the effects some of these include.
All in all this disc can be unequivocally welcomed, and I hope to hear more from Matthew Dirst. This disc is a fine visiting card.
Johan van Veen (© 2011)