- Concerts royaux, for harpsichord or violin, flute, oboe, viol & bassoon (Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin)
Couperin's "Concerts royaux (Royal Concerts)" are straightforwardly named; they were written in the 1710s for King Louis XIV and published in 1722 as an appendix to Couperin's third book of harpsichord pieces. That might make them seem like something of an afterthought, and indeed they are among Couperin's less often performed works. Partly that's because they pose performance problems; Couperin specified no instrumentation for them, saying they were suitable for performance by harpsichord or by several other instruments in groups. French Canadian harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour and a group of other veteran Montreal historical-instrument players solve those problems elegantly, offering groups of various sizes and textures matched to dances of various densities and speeds. The overall impression is much more varied than is usual with sets of Baroque ensemble pieces, and the Baroque flute of Grégoire Jeay is a standout, with perfect intonation and a wonderful dancing, delicate tone. He appears to good effect in the first of a pair of pieces that suggest the low-key charms of these works: the "Courante française" and "Courante à l'italienne" (tracks 21 and 22) from the "Quatrième Concert in E minor." These are nifty little essays that contrast French and Italian styles using not only the same dance, but also closely related melodic material; the former piece is a lilting courtly melody, the latter a group of scales vigorously answering each other. The music is not really characteristic of Couperin, as he himself noted. It has little of the intense ornamentation that's usual in his works, and Beauséjour's players don't add much either. They're right to keep it simple, and in general their performances, although on the dry side, are well judged. The same can't be said of the engineering, accomplished in a suburban Montreal church; it turns music that's warm, intimate, and engaging to something chilly, distant, and often harsh.