Thursday, February 15, 2018

An Unexpected Continuation of Kroll’s Couperin Project

courtesy of Naxos of America

At the beginning of this month, Centaur Records released the fifth volume in harpsichordist Mark Kroll’s project to record the complete keyboard works of François Couperin. Astute readers may recall that the last report on this project was an account of the third volume in the set, which was written at the beginning of this past December. Those readers may wonder why an account of the fourth volume has not yet appeared.

They are not alone. An search on “Mark Kroll Couperin” includes links for the first three volumes and the fifth volume but nothing for the fourth. Indeed, a full Google search on the same keywords is not more productive. The only mention of the fourth volume seems to be on the Discography Web page on Kroll’s own Web site, which provides the catalog number (Centaur 3597) with a hyperlink to a PDF image of the front and back covers. To make matters more perplexing, that Web page does not yet have an entry for the fifth volume!

None of this is likely to surprise those who read last December’s account of Kroll’s third volume. After having accumulated several experiences, including some dating back to my time with, I had decided that it was finally time to vent on just how frustrating things could get when dealing with Centaur products. I also made it a point to keep Kroll out of that “loop of frustration.” As far as I can tell (primarily on the basis of information on the back covers of the CD packages), he is working his way dutifully through the process of recording Couperin’s four Pièces de clavecin volumes that collectively contain 27 ordres (suites). Production and distribution are out of his hands (and I am sure he is glad that he does not have to worry about such matters while preparing for his future recording sessions). However, when it comes to how Centaur handles these matters, there seem to be some “randomness” (as the middle-school students my wife used to teach would put it) about how the products are handled.

This is all more than a little unfortunate, since there is so much to be gained from listening to Kroll’s recordings. The fifth volume makes for a useful “companion” to the third. Like the third volume, it begins with an ordre that opens with a set of dance movements (an allemande, two courantes, a sarabande, and a gigue), followed by a series of nine “character” pieces, each given a distinctive descriptive title. What makes the fifth ordre (which begins the fifth volume) so interesting is that six of those “character” pieces are rondos. (These are explicitly marked as such in the Dover Publications printing of Couperin’s Complete Keyboard Works, reprinting the publications edited by Johannes Brahms and Friedrich Chrysander; but those labels are not included in the track listing on the album’s back cover.) The rondo was, of course, a familiar approach to prolongation; but the fifth ordre is the first set in which Couperin explores its use so extensively.

Note, also, that the fifth ordre is the longest available to date in this project. The duration of the entire set runs more than 40 minutes. As a result, the entire recording includes only one other ordre, the 22nd. Those familiar with the dance suite that Richard Strauss composed based on Couperin sources will immediately recognize the first piece in this collection, entitled “Le Trophée” (the trophy). One might almost indulge in the pun that this is one of the more rewarding tracks on the album!

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