Long overshadowed by his famous nephew François, Louis Couperin’s reputation has increased tenfold over the past decade or so. More harpsichordists (at least on disc) are embracing this composer’s unfettered imagination and ability to generate extraordinary harmonic tension and release. So has one very special pianist, evidently.
Pavel Kolesnikov brings vitality, meaning, and stylish aplomb to this music by utilizing harpsichord-oriented technique like intricate overlapping finger legato, while at the same time making discreet use of the piano’s dynamic and tonal shadings. It helps that Kolesnikov’s Yamaha piano features two contrasting actions, one of which conveys the bristling yet muted immediacy of a harpsichord lute stop, notably at the outset of the two great G minor Passacaille and in the A major Gigue. In addition, Kolesnikov’s intelligent balancing of lines and specificity of arpeggiation gives a modern “spin” to Couperin’s gnawing dissonances and passing tones, such as in the D minor Chaconne.
A conversational outlook informs how the pianist articulates ornaments and flourishes in the various Allemandes, to the point where the basic dance rhythms are implied more than overtly stated. While nothing flashy characterizes the nearly eight-minute-long F-sharp minor Pavane, Kolesnikov creates an understated yet palpable dramatic atmosphere through his variegated touch and rhythmic fluidity.
Adrian Powney’s scholarly annotations never spill over into arcane obscurity, while Hyperion’s engineering holds a close-up yet full-bodied sonic mirror to the care and conciseness behind Kolesnikov’s conceptions. Not since Marcelle Meyer’s classic 1953 Rameau recordings have I heard French Baroque keyboard music befit the modern concert grand so naturally as on this remarkable release.