Le Cœur & l’Oreille
Giulia Nuti (harpsichord)
ARCANA A434. 74’24
Music by Louis Couperin, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Jacques Hardel, Jean Henry D’Angelbert, René Mesangeau, Germain Pinel, and Johann Jacob Froberger
Le Cœur & l’Oreille (The Heart & the Ear) ticks all the musical boxes in a wonderful combination of a historic instrument, fascinating repertoire, inspired playing, and intriguing performance practice and musicological insights. The music performed is found in the famous Bauyn Manuscript, dating from around 1690, but containing music probably composed several decades earlier. It looks as though the manuscript was intended as a wedding gift, although analysis of the coat of arms on the cover has yet to determine who the lucky recipient was. More important is the fact that such a collection was made in the first place. When ‘old music’ was usually considered to be anything written just a few years earlier, the idea of collecting together music from a couple of generations earlier was something of a revolution, not least at a time when very little harpsichord music had been published at all.
The Bauyn Manuscript contains most of the currently known Louis Couperin music, together with substantial amounts of music by the leading harpsichord player of the time, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières. These two composers open and close the programme, with one of Couperin’s evocative unmeasured Preludes, pieces where only the notes are given, all in equal note values, with no sense of pulse, the grouping of notes, or the length of individual notes. In the manner of a lutanist improvising, the player creates their own music from the bare bones of the notes. Two Suites by Chambonnières are balanced by a concluded Couperin Suite. Of as much interest as the big name composers are pieces by the little-known composers Hardel, Mesangeau, and Pinel.
The instrument is the 1658 Louis Denis harpsichord known as Le Hanneton. It’s extraordinarily warm and rich tonal texture seems an ideal vehicle for the rich tapestry of sound that defines the French harpsichord school. The recording venue, the Church of Corcelles, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland responds well to the acoustics of the harpsichord. Of particular interest in terms of performance style and practice is Giulia Nuti’s comments in her programme notes that the nature of the instrument dictated her own playing style – something that, as a player of historic organs, I have long since believed. A good historic instrument will tell the performer how to play, never the other way round, despite the attempts of many performers to try to impose their own style on an instrument. Giulia Nuti‘s playing is rather slower than many harpsichordists, as she responds to the warmth of the instrument and the acoustic, drawing the listener into the music itself, rather than skating over the surface as so many of the speed-merchant keyboard players do. Technically, her playing is equally impressive, her sure grasp of the complex ornamentation practice of the time and her sensitivity of touch and articulation bring life to the notes.
This is an inspiring recording. It would be an excellent introduction to newcomers to the 17th harpsichord repertoire, as well as essential listening for any harpsichord lovers who have allowed themselves to be impressed by more flamboyantly flashy operators.