Almost exactly two months ago, Centaur Records released the third volume in harpsichordist Mark Kroll’s current project to record the complete keyboard works of François Couperin. Following this project has been very much a labor of love, since, as I have already observed, I have been excited about Couperin’s music ever since my student days, when I had a Musical Heritage Society vinyl recording of Robert Veyron-Lacroix playing selections from the 27 ordres (suites) that Couperin had written for his four Pièces de clavecin volumes. I have already enjoyed several opportunities to listen to music I came to know through Veyron-Lacroix now being performed in the context of the ordre in which it was included.
Nevertheless, I feel a need to vent over the frustration of trying to take an informed approach to my listening experiences. These are recordings that I obtain through a download service provided by Naxos of America, a service that I particularly enjoy given that condominium life has cut down on the amount of physical shelf space at my disposal. Unfortunately, Centaur has been annoyingly stingy in providing the background information associated with these releases. When the first volume appeared, I managed to find some of that information through Kroll’s Web site. However, when I wrote to request a more thorough account (which he seems to have provided for the booklet included with the physical release), I got a rather brusque don’t-bother-me-kid response. Thus, I had to make do with little more than the track listing on the back cover (available courtesy of Amazon.com), which also included information about the harpsichords being played. The same was true when I advanced to the second volume. For the third volume, the Amazon.com Web page for the physical release does not even show the front cover, let alone the information on the back! (As might be guessed, the Amazon.com Web page for MP3 download does not include the booklet.)
Still, I hope I am (and will continue to be) resourceful enough to make do with what I have. As a result of the Naxos-provided track listing, I know that the third volume, like the first two, consists of three of the ordres. These are the third in C (“major-minor”), the eleventh, also in C major-minor, and the thirteenth in B minor. I have already noted that Kroll has planned to give special attention “to the selection of appropriate historical harpsichords” but that the first two volumes used the same instrument, made in 1785 by Jacques Germain. This seems to be the instrument used for the third and eleventh ordres on the new volume. However, the instrument used for the 13th ordre sounds like it has fewer resources with regard to ranks of strings and/or keyboards. The result is a more intimate sound that Kroll probably felt was more appropriate for the programmatic titles of that ordre.
Frustrations aside, the third volume maintains the same level of satisfying readings of Couperin’s pieces, whether they are based on programmatic titles or simple dance forms; and, while I am not sure of the logic behind Kroll’s decisions for selecting and ordering the suites, the overall listening experience of any single album is a thoroughly enjoyable one.