François Couperin’s Pièces de Clavecin
Book 1, 5th Ordre
Pièces de Clavecin, Premier Livre, Cinquieme Ordre
1. La Logiviére
2. Première Courante
3. Seconde Courante
4. Sarabande La Dangereuse
6. La Tendre Fanchon
7. La Badine
8. La Bandoline
9. La Flore
11. La Villers
12. Les Vendangeuses
13. Les Agrémens
14. Les Ondes
Andrew Appel, harpsichord
From the opening A maj. chord, elegantly delineated, Couperin immerses us into a shimmering, effervescent, translucent world. Tonalities in the 17th century display their character from the variety inherent in unequal tunings. A major has luminous energy and at the same time, bucolic sweetness. The entire Allemande Grave leads us into an atmosphere of liquid clarity and shimmering sonority. The tableau here is one of blues and light greens and pinks that entice us to recline in the grass and enjoy the breezes passing over our heads.
I have the impression that Coupern has taken us on a promenade beyond the strictures of the chateau, beyond the sculpted formal gardens past the gates into fields and woodlands. We are face to face with a natural but still secure world. There is adventure in this pastoral. La Logiviere, the Allemande Grave that opens the Cinquieme Ordre is rich in contrasting textures. It is a tableau of liquid clarity. The courantes balance courtly dance with poetic rhyme. Notice that each one finds a coherent textural few measures that make sense or give order to one the most beguiling and abstract of dances in the classical suite. The expected series of dances concludes with a bubbling and vibrant gigue that puts an A major smile on our faces. From these late 17th century vantage points our vista changes and we are placed into a world of Rococo delicacy and imagery. We see here Couperin’s mature style, so economical and effecting, marked with a deceptive simplicity unique in the Western canon. Now the instructions Couperin offers at the top of each piece become about affect. They are interesting in their clarity. Gracieusesment, Legerement sans vitesse. He points out both character and movement or speed. Though harpsichordists will differ on Couperin’s exact tempo, though we will differ on what “gracious” implies, we don’t disagree with Couperin! He puts us on a correct path and illuminates the piece at hand.
Andrew Appel, Artistic Director of the Four Nations Ensemble, performs throughout Europe and the United States as soloist in many festivals including Italy’s Spoleto Festival, New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, and the Redwoods Festival. In 2023 Appel was invited to join the performers at Music from Marlboro. As recitalist, Mr. Appel has performed at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls in New York, as well as halls from the Music Academy of the West to the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Along with his focus on The Four Nations Ensemble, he has been a guest artist of Chatham Baroque, the Smithsonian Players, and Orpheus. He serves as harpsichordist for opera companies and has toured with several European chamber orchestras. He has enjoyed critical acclaim for his solo recording of Bach works with Bridge Records as well as his fortepiano performances of Haydn for ASV. He and the Four Nations Ensemble presently record for Orchid Classical in London.
As a writer, Mr. Appel has written program notes and articles for presenters around the country including Lincoln Center, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and National Public Radio. Mr. Appel has participated in discussions on education and chamber music programming at conferences of Chamber Music America, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and the New York State Council on the Arts. He has served as President of the Board of Trustees of Chamber Music America. He has been regularly praised for pre-concert talks that contextualize the music and open areas of discovery for the audience.
A native of New York City, Appel discovered the harpsichord at 14 and began lessons with Tim Read and Igor Kipnis. First-prize winner of the Erwin Bodky Competition in Boston, he holds an international soloist degree from the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp where he worked with Kenneth Gilbert and a Doctorate from the Juilliard School under Albert Fuller. There he has taught harpsichord and music history. Appel has also taught harpsichord, chamber music, music history and humanities courses at Moravian College, Princeton University, and New York Polytech, now a division of New York University.