Best of luck to harpsichordist Bertrand Cuiller. This disc marks the start of a projected complete Couperin keyboard series. It won’t be easy, since it means covering the 27 ordres over four books, totalling more than 220 pieces.

Cuiller’s programming for this disc is solid, though slightly baffling. He calls it a “curtain-raiser” and says that the pieces he plays here all focus on the theatre, explicitly or otherwise. While I’ll admit to being a little stumped by his logic behind the theatrical connections (quite how Les Pavots – The Poppies – relates to the theatre…), it’s nonetheless a charming start to the survey.

When I first sat down to listen, I was convinced that Cuiller was over-ornamenting every piece. Sure, the French Baroque tends to go pretty heavy on the mordents and trills, but I was so sure that it was excessive that I was surprised to read that Cuiller here follows Couperin’s embellishments precisely. Couperin apparently thought players ignoring or replacing his ornaments was an “unpardonable negligence”! There’s still plenty of Cuiller’s personality in the playing here, though – I particularly liked his playfulness with tempo in the faster movements, like the fabulously named showpiece L´Étincelante (The Sparkler). Rather mysteriously, Isabelle Saint-Yves joins in on the bass viol on a single track for about a minute and a half, and I’m really not sure why she’s not featured more. Perhaps that’s being saved for the next disc?


Composer: Couperin
Composition: Keyboard works
Performer: Bertrand Cuiller hpsd
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM90237576

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine