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Louis Couperin Suites for harpsichord

Francesco Corti – Ruckers Harpsichord

Suite in C Major & E Minor
Chaconne ou Passacaille in G Minor
Suites in A Minor & F Major

Genuin CD GEN 87090

This is a very impressive debut disc by a very musical harpsichordist. The recording was part of Francesco Corti's prize from the 2006 International Bach Competition in Leipzig. At the time of writing this, I have just heard that he was also a top prizewinner at the 2007 Brugues Harpsichord Competition, so clearly his credentials are without a doubt.

On this disc he plays a fine-sounding instrument by Ioannes Ruckers which has been vividly recorded. It is quite a close-recorded sound – listening on headphones highlights some noisy breathing from the performer (particularly during the second Sarabande of the F major suite, track 25) but this does not generally distract the listener.

Francesco Corti has chosen to record Louis Couperin, uncle to the more famous François ("le grand"), and Corti plays this music with elegance and a rather youthful coolness. He clearly relishes the sound of the instrument and lets sonorities radiate – the fabulous Passacaille from the C major suite is a fine example of this (track 7). Some may prefer more ebullience in the faster movements. The Ruckers harpsichord underwent a ravellement in the mid 18th Century – another manual was added and extra notes to the compass – but the tone quality is probably one that Couperin would recognize, particularly with the meantone tuning system used here which gives great pungency to the sound (La Piémontoise, track 19, shows how the composer relies on the tuning to heighten the dissonance).

Minor criticisms: the Préludes non-mesurés, which preface the suites on this recording, are given rather considered readings; I feel they lack a little of the spirit of improvisation. I also find the Menuets race by, losing elegance along the way.

However, my biggest reservation is the packaging of this disc. The CD gives the impression of being purely a marketing tool for the Bach Competition – the smallest lettering on the cover is given to the music and composer, then the performer and finally we see the competition name writ largest. Couperin receives the most cursory notes in the booklet, followed by the performer, then two whole pages immediately on the inside are devoted to the Competition. For his first commercial recording Francesco Corti has chosen a composer through whose music he clearly feels able to best express his considerable musical talent - this is not flashy or particularly virtuosic music and the playing is often quite beautifully simple and musical. Why have the producers of this recording not let the skill of the performer and the understated quality of the music advertise the competition for themselves?

Steven Devine