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CD Review: Rediscovered Couperin Cantata

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Two rediscoveries of Brahms and Couperin
Washington Post, October 21

available at Amazon
F. Couperin, Ariane consolée par Bacchus (inter alia), S. Degout, Les Talens Lyriques, C. Rousset

(released on November 11, 2016)
Aparte AP130 | 107'03"
The musicologist, harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset has published a new book on the composer François Couperin (Actes Sud/Classica), and during his research, he made a singular discovery. In a manuscript collection of mostly anonymous French cantatas was an unknown cantata devoted to the story of Ariadne rescued by Dionysus on the island of Naxos. Many would not have given it a second look, but Rousset immediately thought of an unresolved mystery of Couperin’s oeuvre, a lost Ariadne cantata.

The manuscript in question had belonged to the Count of Toulouse, the son of Louis XIV and his mistress, Madame de Montespan, and the count’s music teacher was none other than Couperin. Rousset made the connection and substantiated the find, identifying elements of the composer’s musical signature in the work. He then assembled an all-star team to record it, including Christophe Coin on viola da gamba and baritone Stéphane Degout. Laura Mónica Pustilnik plays the lute, and Rousset himself leads from the harpsichord. As Rousset admits in his booklet essay, this cantata is far from a masterpiece, but the performance makes a strong argument for hearing it.

Also interesting are the two “apothéoses” by Couperin that Rousset includes on the disk: instrumental tributes to two deceased composers he admired: Lully and Corelli. Although the cantata was recorded in the church of Saint-Pierre in Paris, in sound that’s not exactly ravishing; these two pieces sound better as captured in the acoustic of the Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace, a friary converted into a concert space. The “Plaintes” by Lully’s jealous contemporaries, here given to two delicate flutes, is one of many high points.
Rousset does not address one small problem, that the cantata he has found is titled Ariane consolée par Bacchus. In both the catalogue of Couperin's publisher, Etienne Roger, and the Parnasse Français by the chronicler Évrard Titon du Tillet, the missing cantata is called Ariane abandonnée par Thésée.

Charles T. Downey, Christophe Rousset in concert (Ionarts, April 12, 2013)

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