Couperin: Music for Harpsichord, Vol.2 (John Taylor/ Laurence Cummings/ Reiko Ichise) (Naxos: 8.550962)
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Born in Paris in 1668, Francois was the son of Charles Couperin, one of three famous brothers, who were to found a musical dynasty in France that was to last over two centuries.
He was taught by his father and became a highly proficient keyboard exponent at the age of ten, both at the organ and as a virtuoso harpsichord player. It was to be a time when the scope of the instrument was being developed, and Fran_ois was to use it to the full in his compositions.
He was soon in demand as a performer, teacher and composer, and was to become known as 'Le Grand', in recognition of his elevated position in society. He was also extremely busy dividing his time between his many functions, taking the position of organist at Saint Gervais in Paris at the age of 17, while he had to serve for three months each year as organist at the Royal Chapel at Versailles, where he also gave lessons to the royal family. He was much in demand as a performer in the best houses of the fashionable society in Paris, and from there came wealthy pupils. He was also to be employed by many members of the royal entourage.
He was generally regarded as the first composer to devote himself to compositions for the harpsichord (or clavecin), which is not totally true, though all of his music did include the instrument. Even so it would have been performed on other keyboards.
His children were to carry on the family tradition.
Book II of his prodigious 27 Ordres of harpsichord music was probably written in the early 1710's, though not published until 1717. The Eight Ordre consists of 10 sections, many in dance sections. Couperin was a down to earth character, and never became involved in the fashionable mythology which was employing the minds of other composers. His music was a mixture of French and Italian influences, mixing the serious moments with the more light atmosphere of the dance aspects.
The Concert Royaux comes from the Livre de Clavecin, and was composed for the ailing Louis XIV. It was scored for violin, oboe, bass viol, bassoon and harpsichord, the keyboard played by the composer. The composer simply wrote the music on two staves which allows the whole work to be played on solo harpsichord, apart from two movements where there is a third line which necessitates another instrument (here played on a viola da gamba). There is evidence of the influence of Lully in this music, though it is again a mix of Italian and French. It was in four books or 'Concerts'. Both Concerts are in seven movements juxtaposing slow and quick dance rhythms. Again the music comes from the beginning of the 18th century.
\Cummings, beside being an exceptionally clean player, with intelligent phrasing....all his performances are marked by a vitality that is most pleasing", wrote the Gramophone when the first volume in the Fran_ois Couperin series was featured as the Editors Choice. His mature education took place at Christ Church, Oxford. He was active as a continuo and solo performer before his appointment as Assistant Director of Les Arts Florissants. He has worked with many other baroque ensembles, and has made recordings of both Fran_ois and Louis Couperin for Naxos.