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Fanfare Magazine:  (07-08/1984) 
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Reviewer: Edward Strickland 

Reviewing the original release of this recording in 1984.

Abridged version

The Couperin set, let me say almost right away, is an absolute must for any devotee of the composer. It ranks with the Pro Arte releases of the Concerts royaux and Nouveaux concerts by the Kuijkens et al. as the very pinnacle of achievement in the French Baroque chamber music discography, and I'd expect to be mentioning it again when Top Five time rolls around once more in our November issue. Astrée, as you may know, has been promising for several years to offer a complete Couperin on 30 discs, the project to have been finished by 1983 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Thus far, however, the only other disc of the chamber pieces to have reached here is the superb Pièces de violes, also featuring gambist Savall, for me the premier player of his instrument in our day. The current disc only reinforces one's desire to hear Savall and associates approach the Concerts so ably interpreted by the Kuijkens. In a sense, comparison between the Hesperion XX and Quadro Amsterdam Nations may offer a preview of that competition, since the Kuijkens are of the same school as the members of the Dutch consort (Brüggen, Bylsma, Leonhardt, and Schröder), tending to emphasize the chastity and reticence of the delicate material, and doing so with enormous success.

But the Hesperion XX release is a revelation, and however happy one is with the earlier recording I strongly recommend purchase. The character of leader Savall permeates the accounts—his passion, intensity, and abiding sense of drama. His efforts to convey those qualities in the ordres are facilitated by the larger complement of players at his disposal, Savall having enlisted the aid of an additional pair of oboes and bassoon, with a theorbo added to the continuo. The variety thus provided is totally engrossing.

The Nations represents Couperin le Grand's last published attempt at the fusion of French and Italian styles that preoccupied him during the latter half of his life. The structure of the ordres, therefore, is an interesting hybrid, with opening sonatas followed by more or less traditional French suites of dances. But the two goûts are compounded as well as structurally mixed, and the grandiloquence of the French overture tradition is evident in the grave openings of the sonatas—more so than ever in the Savall accounts, which at times approach orchestral expansiveness. On the other hand, the Italianate sweetness and light of the more lyrical sections are delivered with great plaintiveness, as opposed to the affecting understatement of the Quadro Amsterdam accounts. In short, the two recordings provide wonderful complements to one another. Hear both, definitely, but if you must have only one let it be the Savall.


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