We’ll get the entertaining trivia out of the way first, namely that the musical Couperin dynasty came from Chaumes-en-Brie. I’m struggling to think of another example of cheese/classical music crossover – please leave feedback if you’ve any examples. Plus, 17th century French musicians referred to F sharp minor as the 'key of the goat'. No explanation for this is given here. Pianist Pavel Kolesnikov’s sumptuously recorded disc focuses on dances by Louis Couperin (1626-1661), the short-lived uncle of the better-known François. Kolesnikov has compiled three suites of dances taken from the Bauyn Manuscript, the only surviving collection of Louis’s music. The original copyist left no hint as to the pieces’ chronology or how Louis may have ordered them, Kolesnikov’s neatly organised sequences collecting sets of pieces in the same key. Two of the suites open with 'unmeasured preludes'. Have a look online at one, and be baffled: how on earth does one approach baroque keyboard music with no note values or bar lines? Kolesnikov makes it sound easy, his improvisatory freedom hand-in-hand with shrewd musical intelligence. He knows just how long to sustain the notes, the squelchy dissonances resolving to enchanting effect. How could this music have been written in the mid-17th century?
Moving from the unmeasured D minor prelude to the ensuing “Allemande” takes us from deliciously hazy uncertainty to clear outlines and springy rhythms. Kolesnikov never forgets that these are dance movements and invests each one with character. It’s all wonderful, but if pushed to suggest highlights I’d opt for the D minor suite’s bumptious gavotte and the sprightly gigue in the middle of the G minor sequence. Louis’s humanity shines through in the touching Tombeau de Mr de Blancrocher, a tribute to a celebrated lutenist and friend who died in 1652 after a disastrous encounter with a flight of stairs. Magical stuff: to be consumed with red wine and thick slabs of brie.