Brilliant Classics complete Couperin dynasty

You’ve got to hand it to Brilliant Classics for releasing quite a few complete works of harpsichord composers.

They have now released their François Couperin - not quite complete, it seems, but an awful lot of it.

In my opinion, the recorded sound is very beautiful. Listen, for example, to the Allemande for two harpsichords

It is not clear who is playing and, to be frank, I am not keen on a lot of the interpretations, though some things are very nicely considered. It is refreshing, for example, to hear a player NOT treat Les Baricades Mistérieuses as a kind of arpeggio exercise.

Perhaps this FC is a reissue of Michael Borgstede’s complete set from 2006. Couperin: 4 Livres de pièces de clavecin - Brilliant Classics

I’m not sure whether the release of Brilliant’s complete Louis Couperin has been mentioned on The Jackrail. This is a recording which unfortunately I cannot recommend.

Care to give any reasons?

I just don’t like the playing at all. Of course that’s just an opinion.

I haven’t heard the recording, but Douglas is a very respected player. If he does not like a recording to the point of saying this in public, I trust him.

And I am happy that a colleague has the guts of saying aloud when he dislikes a performance, even if from somebody “famous”. I can name (and I did, producing exchanges where I got grossly insulted) at least two “very famous” active harpsichordists (and at least another two that are dead) who in my opinion produce performances that depart enormously from the basics we know about how music was performed in the harpsichord era.

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Indeed. There is ample space for expressing their own dislikes or articulated criticisms without being insulting. Criticisms are necessary for the debates and for having a better playing panorama and better listeners. More (civil) dislikes and criticisms (and of course more likes as well). For example, is a pity that Douglas is not willing to share his detailed opinions, as I for one am no Louis Couperin connoisseur and have no clue of the elements of a good performance. I’d learn a lot by reading his or others opinions.

Not here on Jackrail, I guess, as I don’t remember any insults? Moderators should do their work in that case.

Again I agree, but adherence to the current knowledge and understanding of the performance “basics” are much but are not everything which matters. It’s perfectly possible, for example, hear “correct” performances which still sound stiff or otherwise unmusical. I remember a comment by Andrew to this effect last year, concerning many of the participants to the Brugge Competition. On the other hand I believe we can sometimes pardon slight departures from the current knowledge and understanding of the performance elements if the player on the other hand can still convey some musical emotions.
To be sure, the keyword here is “slight” departures, as no emotion can be effectively conveyed if a Storace toccata is played as it were a Brahms piece.

In many performances there is something to be saved even if the performance as a whole is delusional or outdated.

I accept the second sentence; but there must be a more helpful reason than that given in the first. I would not accept this as a justification from a student of mine, and I am sure that an experienced and respected player such as DouglasA can give objective reasons, without insulting the performer any more than he already has by withholding his recommendation. Why the need for secrecy?

I myself think that I have enough well-played recordings of L. Couperin, and it would have to be an exceptional new one to merit purchase. While not actually panting to hear such an exception, I find it more profitable to do my best to realise LC’s music at the instrument.


Indeeed Domenico. But we have to be careful: some “modern distortions” are unavoidable. We quill with Delrin or non-crow birds to produce a louder instrument because today we play for larger audiences in larger spaces compared with the harpsichord era. And we like to change stops from piece to piece even if this was not the rule in the harpsichord era (although this is certainly documented in some works of both J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach).

On the other hand, we exaggerate in pretending that J.S. Bach cannot be played on a French model and will be severly distorted on a German model. And viceversa for Rameau, say.

However, what is the point in using a very good instrument if we perform rubato in a way that departs from the many Baroque documents on how it was performed? Or if we play trills and mordents against some very basic and universal Baroque customs? Or if we insist in playing legato throughout the slow movements?

But I apologise. I have already aired these rants of mine before. Will shortly delete this post, I guess.

Why should you? they are useful “rants”.
I agree, of course, was just saying it’s often preferable a French music played with touch’s nuances and tenderly flowing lines, even with too few inégales, for example, to the same piece played with perfect inégales but with stiffness. The former is more musical, and probably more French, too.

Actually, it is not my experience that delrin is louder than quill. The loudness in my experience is set by the string excursion and you cant pluck louder just by substituting delrin for quill – unless you want to produce an ugly sound.



Ditto. It’s a common experience. More, you can do more than simply substituting delrin for quill. Quill can be voiced a little louder than the “ideal”, without producing ugly sounds. Keyword, “a little louder”, not too much, of course.

Yes. You are correct. The tone of Delrin becomes ugly at a lower sound level than quill. But it is not a large level difference.


This thread has seriously gone off topic!

My intention was only to announce that Brilliant has started to publish a complete Couperin Dynasty collection on YouTube.

While the François Couperin does have lots of merits, and I can recommend spending time getting to know it, I cannot say that about the Louis Couperin so I mentioned that as an aside. I don’t write record reviews and I am happy to leave that to others who do it professionally.

But as I have been asked directly to say what it is about the LC set which I don’t like, I will do so.

first a couple of positives:

– the instrument sounds very nice indeed

– some movements are convincing - for example, La Piemontoise

now, I’m afraid that I have a long list of negatives:

– the shaping of melodic lines is clumsy - the phrases don’t ‘breathe’

– ‘style brisé’ has not been used to create sonority, nor to create moments of repose - broken chords are played very literally without any musical effect. There is nothing lute-like about that.

– fast movements, such as Canaries, are leaden - both too slow and too legato

– chaconnes with strong 1st and 2nd beats are poorly accented so that the 1st beat sounds like an upbeat to the 2nd beat

– there is some very clumsy arpeggiation

– when there are runs of 16th notes, there is no attempt made to identify groupings within those runs, either with micro-rhythms or articulation

– while I think there can be a lot of freedom in the Tombeau, there is real carelessness about the note values written on the page (not to mention the ‘plus vite’ marking when that comes up), which I feel is to the detriment of the music

– overall there is a serious lack of energy

We are fortunate to have lots of good harpsichordists to choose from in terms of Louis Couperin.
– Leonhardt (not a lot but it is very good)
– Bob van Asperen complete and all on antique instruments including the Vaudry
– Jean Rondeau (only a bit online now but he is doing a complete this year)
– Glen Wilson
– Skip Sempé
– Richard Egarr
– Blandine Verlet

None of these players approaches the music in the same way, but they all bring a lot more care and skill than the unfortunate chap chosen by Brilliant.

In my opinion!

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Thanks a lot. I’ll take your post as a listening guide.

Douglas A:

Thank you very much for your comments and honest opinion, which we value. I do not have all the recordings you list, but those that I do have are all on it!


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Indeed Domenico! And irrespective of the common present-day excesses in rubato-over-the-beat, which did exist in the 18th century but was considered in poor taste by Rameau and Mozart, no less, certainly stiffness is unmusical and contrary to F. Couperin’s goal of “la douceur du toucher”.

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The Brilliant is just back catalogue glued together in a box as far as I can see. Not new recordings. I may be wrong.

The harpsichordist is Massimo Berghella, whom I do not know from any other context. He seems to have adopted a standardized way of approaching the music of Louis Couperin, which though not wrong becomes wearying piece after piece. I think Louis Couperin has a lot more to say than Massimo Berghella presents.

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That’ss for the LC. The box set is a grab bag of multiple players.

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I am supposed to know, perhaps just by “earsight”, the name of most professional harpsichordists in Italy. Never heard about Massimo Berghella.
No CV or bio of him online.
He appears to be active in the Southern Adriatic coast of Italy.
There is a favourable review of another record of him in Grammophone.

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Sometimes I wonder whether it is a blessing or a curse that it is so easy to make recordings these days.