Sunday, January 1, 2017

Emer Buckley and Jochewed Schwarz record chamber works of François Couperin on two harpsichords

Yochewed Schwarz, Emer Buckley (DuoChord Pictures)
Two discs titled “François Couperin - Les Nations, Sonates et Suites de Symphonies en trio and Other Pieces for Two Harpsichords”, recorded by Jochewed Schwarz and Emer Buckley are now available to French Baroque music aficionados. Recorded in 2013 at the von Nagel Harpsichord Workshop (Paris) for the Toccata Classics label, the discs offer the listener the chance to hear some of Couperin’s major chamber works played on two harpsichords. No contrived concept, in the preface to the published edition of his  “Apothéose” Trio Sonata (1725, dedicated to Lully’s memory), originally scored typically for two melodic instruments plus bowed string and keyboard continuo, Couperin writes that this work and his intended complete collection of trios can be played on two harpsichords, as he does with family and students; his informal introduction offers some tips as to performing the works on two harpsichords, also suggesting that this is a more convenient means of playing them than bringing together “four working musicians”.

The more substantial works presented on the discs are the four ordres (suites) making up Couperin’s vast and ground-breaking project of “Les Nations”, each suite constituting a combination of a virtuosic Italianate trio sonata da chiesa (sonade) followed by a large-scale and elaborate French suite of dances. Representing Couperin’s paradigm of “les goûts réunis” (union of tastes), “Les Nations” was published in 1726, although three of the trio sonatas were composed in the 1690s. Each of the four ordres celebrates a Catholic power of Europe – France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and the Savoy dynasty of Piedmont.  On publishing “Les Nations”, Couperin confessed to being “charmed by the sonatas of Signor Corelli and by the French works of M. de Lulli, both of whose compositions I shall love as long as I live”. This being the background to the ordres, Schwarz and Buckley’s performance of them does not endeavour to layer them with extra-musical conjectures – political, sociological or otherwise. In their playing of the opening movements of each, Schwarz and Buckley present the flamboyance, fast mood changes, piquant dissonances, contrasts and forthright character of Italian music and with some lively, gregarious ornamenting. Moving into the French agenda of each ordre, the artists then offer sympathetic- and indeed pleasingly stylistic readings of the dances, also rich in agréments. With Schwarz and Buckley’s absolute precision and superb synchronization never sounding pedestrian, they display the noble elegance of this courtly music in playing that is fresh and vigorous, exposing the music’s interest, rhetoric and rhythmic ideas.

The disc also includes selected pieces from Couperin’s “Pièces de Clavecin” and “Concerts Royaux”, most of which were also written as trio compositions.  From Book 2 (1717) of the “Pièces de Clavecin”, the artists perform “Les Barricades mystérieuses”, the rondeau’s mesmerizing, otherworldly sound wrought of an intriguingly dovetailed contrapuntal texture. Then to the robust “Allemande à deux Clavecins”. From Book 3 of the “Pièces de Clavecin” (1722) the CD includes “La Létiville” and two robust, solidly-anchored musettes - the “Muséte de Choisi” and “Muséte de Taverni” – their drones referring to early folk music and instruments.

Organist of the Royal Chapel, François Couperin composed his “Concerts Royaux” (Royal Concerts), published in 1722, “for the little chamber concerts where Louis XIV bade me come nearly every Sunday of the year.” Buckley and Schwarz offer stylish performances of some of its delightful miniatures, calling attention to their opulence, their sense of joy and wit. In the Forlane Rondeau (4th Concert), the artists highlight the variety and contrasts made possible by the rondo form. The splendid pieces of the “Concerts Royaux” must surely have provided the aging Bourbon monarch with pleasurable entertainment; to today’s listener, they represent French Baroque chamber music at its best.

Corresponding to the candid, full touch of both artists, the sound quality of the two CDs is true and engaging, offering the listener a lively listening experience. Written by both players, the liner notes accompanying both CDs are highly informative both musically and biographically. Basing their information on what Couperin himself wrote, the artists have made a deep enquiry into the works and into the question of playing them on two harpsichords rather than in a mixed consort. Schwarz and Buckley write: “This challenge is one which faces all harpsichordists and, throughout the preparation of our recording, it has been a constant inspiration to us to imagine Couperin playing the music in his own home, surrounded by family, friends and pupils.

Emer Buckley was born in Dublin, Jochewed Schwarz in Tel Aviv. Both discovered the harpsichord during their university studies – Emer Buckley at University College, Dublin, and Jochewed Schwarz at the Music Academy, Tel Aviv University. Emer continued her studies in France and Italy, then moving to France to begin a career as a soloist and continuo player. She also teaches harpsichord and the art of continuo at the Conservatoire de Lille. Jochewed Schwarz studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and in Paris, then returning to Israel, where she lives today performing, directing and producing concerts. The two artists met at the von Nagel Harpsichord Workshop in Paris and, despite living in different countries, they take every opportunity of making music together. 





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