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François COUPERIN: Concerts royaux

Audiophile Audition
26 octobre 2011

 First things first: this recording features the hautboy, the Baroque forerunner of the modern oboe. It has a more plangent, anatine (that sounds nicer than duck-like) sound than the present-day oboe—to this listener closer almost to the sound of the English horn. You’ll have heard the hautboy in authentic-instrument recordings of Baroque music but maybe not front-and-center as in this recording of the Concerts, a series of suites for chamber ensemble by Couperin.

The composer left the instrumentation up to the taste of the performers; besides the oboe, the top line can be played by violin, recorder, or flute, while the bass line can be played by a cello or other bass instrument. Some ensembles add a second or third player to the top line, and the pieces can even be played by solo harpsichordist. Good news for those who like to collect multiple recordings of a piece of music! In his notes to the recording, Bruce Haynes mentions that the Concerts originated from a series of Sunday chamber concerts performed by Couperin himself playing the keyboard plus, apparently, a violinist, a hautboyist, a bassoonist, and a gambist.

The current performances, with an ensemble of just three players, have an especially cozy, drawing-room air about them and seem geared to late-evening listening, after you’ve had your Mahler or Varèse fix for the day. The musétes from the 15ème Ordre and Muzette from the 3ème Concert sound just right on this combination of instruments, the hautboy and viola da gamba being perfect stand-ins for the chanters of the little bagpipe of the title. Not to single out these movements especially: Couperin’s preludes and assorted dance movements have charm aplenty as well.

This is gracious, elegant music beautifully played, with all the sympathy and understanding of early-music specialists. Bruce Haynes, who died this past May, was not only a well-regarded performer on the hautboy and recorder but also an instrument builder and Ph.D. in musicology. So a lifetime of study went into his music-making. For those with a specialist’s interest in such matters, in several of the movements on the recording Haynes plays an hautboy made around 1700 in Paris by Pierre Naust, one of the premiere makers of woodwind instruments of the day. Elsewhere in the program, Haynes plays an hautboy made by Olivier Cottet in 1994. I confess I can’t tell the difference, which must speak well for Cottet’s craftsmanship.

Haynes had an excellent supporting cast in harpsichordist Arthur Haas and cellist/gambist Susie Napper, both of whom are sought after as performers and teachers of Baroque performance practice. The 1998 recording was set down at a small church in Quebec, which lends just the right ambient glow to the proceedings.

Lee Passarella - Audiophile Audition

The Whole Note
1 octobre 2011

Around 1700 Pierre Naust crafted an hautboy in Paris — it may be the earliest hautboy (forerunner of the oboe) now in private hands. In 1703 Barak Norman created a viola da gamba in London. This recording unites these two instruments in some of Couperin’s concerts royaux, precisely the repertoire for which Naust’s hautboy would have been played. The recording was originally released in 1999 but one very poignant reason explains its redistribution. US/Canadian Bruce Haynes, the hautboy soloist, died this year; reintroducing the hautboy into France (!) and five books and 50 articles on early music are his legacy. Concert 7’s sarabande is the first opportunity to hear the Naust hautboy. It is both outwardly expressive and yet slightly sensitive; Couperin was well able to bring out the quality of this instrument. 

In Concert 11, despite the rather stately quality of all eight movements, the standard
of hautboy playing is always maintained. It is Susie Napper’s mastery of the gamba
which gains exposure, reinforced in her duet with harpsichordist Arthur Haas in a track
from Couperin’s third book of harpsichord pieces. In fact, Bruce Haynes returns with
some of his most inspired playing in two musétes. Rural can only begin to describe
the combination of hautboy, harpsichord and gamba as they imitate the sounds of the
French bagpipe! And then the even more varied Concert 3 (with another muzette–sic) to conclude this tribute to Bruce Haynes, and to the instrument he revived in the country of its birth.
Michael Schwartz - The Whole Note