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GRAMOPHONE (12/2020)
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Reviewer: Philip Kennicott

Armand-Louis Couperin was not the nephew of François Couperin, as is sometimes asserted in both historic and contemporary accounts of the composer. Rather, he was the son of one of François’s cousins, and belonged to the generation of French harpsichordists, including Royer, Duphly and Balbastre, who pushed the instrument to scintillating (and sometimes exhausting) heights of virtuoso display. Still, he bore the illustrious Couperin name, held significant posts as an organist and was highly esteemed by his contemporaries.

Christophe Rousset’s recording of the younger Couperin’s harpsichord oeuvre (some 25 pieces grouped into two large key groups, in G and B flat) is the first professional recording of these works. Rousset is an ideal interpreter, with a light, effortless approach and an easy mastery of the often cluttered ornamentation, and he has a genuine interpretative affinity for music that can be, at times, too showy for its own substance. These works live more in the idiom of Rameau than that of Couperin’s older cousin, with short character pieces that use brilliant effects in service to more or less appealing sketches. In some pieces, the composer explores keyboard technique seemingly for its own purposes (broken parallel octaves in both hands and long passages of arpeggiated figures). In others, including the lovely ‘La Chéron’, simplicity and harmonic grace accomplish far more than challenging fingerwork. When he seems most inclined to channel the old-fashioned idiom of the great Couperin, he also produces some of his most lovely music. Rousset serves Couperin well and transparently, making the best possible case for even the most blustery passages. This is an appealing album, despite the reservations registered here. Armand-Louis Couperin wrote for a glorious instrument (and Rousset performs on a magnificently crystalline and precise historic 18th-century harpsichord) at its autumnal efflorescence. The composer held nothing back, and neither does the performer.

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