Couperin Harpsichord Suites
The fact that Louis Couperin, unlike his more famous nephew François, never had the words ‘Le Grand’ appended to his name should not blind us to the fact that he was one of the greatest harpsichord composers of the 17th century, a creator of suites of beautifully honed miniatures cast predominantly in the standard French dance-forms of the day (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and so on) exuding all the noble expressiveness and lyrical melancholy of their age.
In Skip Sempé he finds an ideal interpreter. Here is a player who relishes the sheer sound of the harpsichord and knows, above all, how to exploit its glorious resonance. It is precisely what Couperin needs, and Sempé achieves it by means of probably the most exquisite touch you will ever hear on the instrument, leaving him in control of the tone at every turn. Chords are spread lovingly, ornaments tumble easily into one another, all without a hint of unwelcome percussiveness or jangliness – every note seems to have been deftly caressed into being.
He also shows us just how much he enjoys the bass sonority of his harpsichord (a compliant Bruce Kennedy French copy) by throwing in a low-lying transcription of a Marais gamba piece; and there is another guest composer in the form of Froberger, who answers Couperin’s Prélude in explicit imitation of his style with his sombrely magnificent Tombeau de Monsieur Blancheroche. A minute lack of improvisatory flow in the unmeasured Préludes is scarcely worth mentioning when so much else in Sempé’s playing gives unalloyed pleasure. This is demonstration-class musicianship at the harpsichord.