The Sultan and the Phoenix


 Louis (c.1626-1661), François le Grand (1668-1733) and Armand-Louis (1727-1789) were the three most celebrated members of the distinguished Couperin family of musicians who flourished from the late 16th century until the middle of the 19th, holding a position of esteem parallel to that of the Bachs in Germany.

The Sultan and the Phoenix presents both masterpieces and rare gems from the Couperins and their contemporaries, all delivered with a rare insight by the ensemble charivari agréable. The programme presents an overview of the ensemble use of the viol in its various manifestations and stages of evolution in France. The Couperin dynasty offers a convenient chronological framework within which the viol could be heard in various guises: from a consort setting to a ‘pièces de clavecin en concerts’ configuration; from a six-string bass viol to a five-string hybrid ‘quinton’. Underpinning this programme is the historical practice of adaptation, transcription and arrangement with which French baroque music is replete.

Historical tradition is followed by the arrangement of some pieces by the players. Some involved direct transcription, such as the L. Couperin Pavan for a viol consort or the F. Couperin harpsichord piece for theorbo (in the style of de Visée, see above). Other pieces are left untouched, such as L. Couperin’s Fantaisies and Corrette’s Phénix, as well as the large-scale chamber works of Dornel and Couperin.

Charivari Agréable’s reputation as one of the most original ensembles in the period-instrument scene was recently articulated by the BBC Music Magazine, which noted that the ensemble “has carved something of a niche for itself in imaginative and well thought-out programming”, reasoning that its work is the fruit of both scholarly research and charismatic musicianship, a combination which puts it at the forefront of period-instrument ensembles.

This recording is refreshing and rewarding. Charivari Agréable is a rare combination with a distinct sound and sonority, displaying sincere empathy and love for the repertory they choose to record.


What people are saying

"eminently listenable and musically satisfying … an intelligently created and expertly played program that shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of Baroque instrumental chamber music.”


“Above all this comes across as a very good concert which will give much pleasure to its listeners."

Early Music Review


“I love the rich sound they make in their own version of Louis Couperin’s keyboard piece La Piémontoise.”

Radio 3 – CD Review


Charivari Agréable

Susanne Heinrich
Lynda Sayce
Susanna Pell
Kah-Ming Ng


Sarah Groser
Reiko Ichise
Asako Morikawa

Release date:20th May 2001
Order code:SIGCD032
Barcode: 635212003220

Diapason, January 2004

Diapason d’or award

Le catalogue Signum est enfin distributé en France ! Avex lui bous arrive une double découverte : les violes virtuoses de Charivari Agréable d’une part, et de l’autre u repertoire français pour consort certes beaucoup moins documenté que celui pour viole et basse continue, mais ausai noble et varie

 Music Web

This disc which has given me such pleasure and delight. It consists of music of the French Baroque dating from a period c.1660 to c.1760.

Charivari Agréable, founded in 1993, are making their name in the performance of early music with the specific idea of arranging works for instruments even when they may not have been intended for anything other than the keyboard. A good example of their work can be heard in ‘The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’ (Signum 009) recorded at the same venue in February 1998. They play on a combination of Treble viols, Quinton Viols and Bass viols, a ten-course lute, a French theorbo, a harpsichord and a chamber organ. The group consists of Susanne Heinrich, Sarah Grosser, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise, Asako Morikawa, and Lynda Sayce and Kah-Ming Ng. They are pictured in the booklet.

There is a useful essay about the composers and the music by Lucy Robinson and a useful note on the performance by Kah-Ming Ng who has also been responsible, as has Susanne Heinrich, for arranging some of the music. Most of the instruments are modern copies or are adapted from originals. Charivari Agréable means a ‘pleasant tumult’ which seems most appropriate. It seems to me that they have the happy distinction of successfully combining intellect with passion, especially in this French repertoire.

St. Andrew’s Toddington is a fine, large church where Signum have recorded before. It is a large 19th Century structure designed by G.E. Street set in idyllic countryside. It is next to Lord Sudeley’s fantastic Gothic revival house and has an excellent acoustic.

The group take some works and play them as they were intended, for instance Corrette’s three movement ‘Le Phoenix’ Concerto in D major scored unusually for 4 bass viols and continuo. We also have a harpsichord solo ‘La Cheron’ by the last great Couperin, Armand-Louis. The ‘Sultan’ part of the CD title, incidentally, refers to a work of that name by François Couperin. It is a multi-movement six-part work inspired by Corelli or Legrenzi. It is in the Italian style, which Couperin was able to ape successfully in his various attempts to unify Corelli. Both Couperin and Lully admired Corelli. Couperin revered Lully.

Many of the other pieces have been arranged for instrumental combinations of various types. If you know Rameau’s wonderful ‘Pièces de Clavecin en concerts’ of 1741 you will know that the twenty or so pieces in the five suites all started in another form; mostly in the keyboard collections of 1714 and 1728. Rameau arranged them for harpsichord, and two other instruments – normally cello (or gamba) and violin/ flute. This is the principle adopted here by Ng and Heinrich. So, Duphly’s ‘La Madin’ from his collection ‘Livre de pices Clavecin’ is heard here on a Quinton viol, a treble viol and harpsichord.

Now this is all very well when adding layers to keyboard works but what if you are thinning out from already composed orchestral ones. For the last item in their programme ‘Charivari Agréable’ play Marais’s magnificent Chaconne which comes at the end of his opera ‘Alcione’ (1706). To hear this in its original orchestral dress you could perhaps search out Jordi Savall’s recording of four suites from the opera of dances and airs (Astrée Auvidis E8525) and superb it is too. Here we have it arranged for just six players. The effect is more domestic and intimate but I feel ultimately unsuccessful with its all too obvious solo lines seemingly created with a view to giving each player a chance to shine.

Despite this single reservation, if you enjoy baroque music or indeed any early music, this disc is worth investigating. The texts are translated into French and German and the presentation is of a very satisfactory calibre.

Gary Higginson

Viola da Gamba Society (UK) – Newsletter No. 117 

This CD contains a wide-ranging programme of French music by eight composers, the earliest being Louis Couperin (1626-1661) and the latest Armand-Louis Couperin (1727-1789). I decided to audition the CD with a completely open mind. I did not yet possess a CD by Charivari Agreable and had only heard them perform live. I listened to the CD without allowing myself to read the sleeve notes at all, therefore without knowing what pieces were going to be played, or which instruments were going to be used, or even which performers were going to augment the core members of Charivari Agreable.

The CD begins with La Piemontoise by Louis Couperin, originally for harpsichord, arranged by Kah-Ming Ng. From the start the listener is immersed in the luxurious sonority of viols with theorbo and harpsichord, which distinguishes itself from the sound of other groups through its feeling of richness, and a gentle pulse which is not strong enough to force itself on you, but which carries you along. Then follows Louis Couperin’s Pavanne in F sharp minor. Susanne Heinrich has arranged this for viol consort from the harpsichord original. The effect is magical, and is best described as follows: imagine slow ‘straight’ English viol consort performance which has then had human life breathed into it, with playing sensitive to the direction of each phrase, aided by a tasteful degree of dynamics which is not excessive, then a hint of vibrato added at carefully chosen points. Once again the listener is carried along by a very gentle pulse, in a way reminds me of David Munrow’s skilful renderings of slow movements back in the 1970’s. Despite the piece lasting eight minutes, I didn’t get tired of listening to it. The effect is so successful that I might even go so far as to say that this track could be a model for viol consorts to follow in the future. It is followed by Louis Couperin’s Fantaisie pour les Violes, arranged by Susanne Heinrich for treble viol, bass viol and lute. The lute and bass viol accompanied in a sensitive manner, while the treble viol could be criticised for a slight lack of authority in its playing, so that the overall effect was a little weak but still pleasant. The next track is a short piece by Louis Couperin, his2 e Fantaisie a 5, played on viols and theorbo. Here the top line had no lack of authority, and in addition was not afraid to include ample divisions and vibrato. I can only describe this as a perfect rendition of such a piece. Then follows Michel Corrette’s Le Phenix Concerto in D major for four bass viols and basso continuo. This consists of an allegro, an adagio then another allegro, and as the title suggests, the listener is presented with a sound texture quite different from anything yet heard on this disc, namely four bass viols and harpsichord. Unfortunately I don¹t find the tunes in this concerto very attractive, but there’s no accounting for individual taste, is there? The viol playing in both allegro movements could be criticised for a slight lack of control. This only occurs to a small degree, but the effect on the listener is greater. It breaks the magic spell that the preceding tracks have cast. The slight loss of control causes individual notes to draw attention to themselves, so that the music does not come over so well to the listener, but the notes do. It’s a sad reality of music playing that it almost requires magic to make a performance add up to more than the sum opf the notes, and it is so easy for the magic to be lost. The piece is however rescued to a great extent by the attentive and fluid playing of the slow middle movement.

The listener is then given a complete break of texture with a theorbo solo, Francois Couperin’s Les baricades misterieuse arranged by the player, Lynda Sayce, from the harpsichord original. The playing is thoughtful and makes sensitive use of rubato, with an overall pleasing effect. The musical texture changes once again with the next track, which is a Recit by Pierre Dumage, originally for organ, arranged by Kah-Ming Ng for string solo accompanied by theorbo and organ. The soloist’s bow control is excellent, encompassing the softest and the loudest sounds within the instrument’s capabilities. The strings were caressed and massaged to produce exactly the sound you want at any point in the piece. Each note had its own choice of volume, its own choice of attack, and some notes had just the right hint of vibrato, which all added up to a perfectly coherent rendering of this short piece. If there had been any worries about the music’s magic spell having been broken earlier on, then it has certainly been mended by now. As I said earlier, I deliberately listened to this CD without reading which instruments were being played, and which performers were augmenting the core members of Charivari Agreable. It was at this stage that I stated to wonder who was this violinist who had just displayed his or her talents so well in a 2-minute piece. Various names came to mind, mainly those who were well known for playing first violin roles in the best baroque orchestras. I was already convinced that this mystery person had studied under Sigiswald Kuijken. I listened all the way to the end of the CD before allowing myself to look at the sleeve notes, and in the remaining tracks hear a wealth of stunning, highly varied string playing, while I was still trying to guess who the players were. When I did eventually allow myself to read the sleeve notes I was very surprised. I had been listening to members of Charivari Agreable, playing either treble viols or, on some tracks, a quinton. Recit by Pierre Dumage had just been played on a treble viol by Susanne Heinrich, and I had been completely fooled.

The musical texture changes again with the next track, which is Francois Couperin’s La Sultane. The slow fluid playing of the strings in the first movement is best described by an analogy of giving the feeling of being blown by a pleasant warm breezr from one scene to another. In the second movement, which is fast, the strings play their fast passages effortlessly, with an attractive attack on each note, and perfect timing. One can be equally complimentary about the remaining movements of this piece. By way of contrast, this is followed by a harpsichord solo, Armand-Louis Couperin¹s La Cheron. This is played with complete freedom of timing, giving exactly the sense of shape and direction needed for this kind of music. Each repeat is mildly contrasted with the original, the changes in registration are well choses and the ornamentation is very tasteful. All in all, Kah-Ming Ng makes this type of music sound perfectly natural. The listener is given a complete contrast of both sound and mood in the next two tracks by Jacques Duphly: La Madin and La Casaubon both originally for harpsichord and arranged by Kah-Ming Ng. These consist of a very active harpsichord part accompanying two h igh solo strings. These are in fact a quinton and a treble viol, but like I mentioned earlier, I was under the illusion that I was listening to violins. These two pieces might be described as ‘casually enjoyable’, without the seriousness or fussiness of the preceding music. Just when you thought that the group had exhausted all the possible sound textures and moods available from their finite resources, they spring yet another surprise on you in the form of a sonata in B minor by Louis-Antoine Dornel, played on three high string instruments, bass viol, theorbo and harpsichord. The listener is presented with enormous contrasts, such as a wonderfully slow dark opening, fast dramatic passages, a slow and rich third movement ­ so rich that I found myself asking ‘is this really only for six players?’ and a final fast fugue, played perfectly rhythmically and evenly. The last track is the Chaconne by Marais from the final act of Alcione, arranged by Kah-Ming Ng for two high string instruments, three bass viols, theorbo, and harpsichord. The top string line displayed that same ultimate bow control that was so noticeable in the Pierre Dumage Recit, deliberate attack on carefully chosen notes…

This is a CD in which the minor drawbacks are completely outweighed by the good points. The treble viol players had me completely fooled. I listened to the entire second half of the programme thinking that top grade violinists had been drafted into the group, only to find that the lines were played by the group¹s own treble viol players. I would even go as far as saying that a student of early violin playing should listen to these tracks as an example of how to play. And while on this topic, I would insist that every student of viol consort playing must listen to the second track, Louis Couperin’s Pavanne in F sharp minor. A lot of original thought went into this CD, at all levels from the overall choice of pieces down to the individual phrases and notes. This is the sort of playing that takes control of the listener, and has him or her wanting to listen to the end of each track. What better recommendation could there be than that?

Andrew Freeland

Early Music News

The latest CD from Charivari Agreable presents a feast of ensemble music for viol, in its various manifestations from the French baroque. The playing is refined and tasteful in the best French manner and utterly compelling. It is well worth investigating, even for people who don’t normally like viol music.

Seven musicians appear on this recording, Susanne Heinrich, Sarah Groser, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise and Asako Morikawa play a variety of viols, while Lynda Sayce plays theorbo and 10-course lute, and Kah-Ming Ng plays chamber organ and harpsichord. That range of instruments offers considerable variety, which Charivari Agreable exploit to the full, with textures which range from the fullness of Corrette’s Le Phenix for four viols and continuo, to the exquisite solo theorbo version of Francois Couperin’s Les baricades misterieuses.

Many of the distinctions between composition and performance which later became rigid were remarkably fluid when this music was aritten. This applies to the obvious things continuo realizations and ornamentation and to more drastic alteration. When French baroque treatises offer advice on how to turn a solo keyboard work into a trio sonata, it makes perfect sense for performers to adapt or arrange works, taking into account the instruments and musical personalities involved. The result is that about half of the pieces presented here are arrangements by members of the ensemble, and the promise of creativity implied in that statement is richly satisfied.

The French flirtation with Italian styles provided a continual source of variety, and the Italian aspect is particularly noticeable in Francois Couperin’s La Sultane, except that, being scored for two bass viols with organ and theorbo continuo, it also manages to sound utterly French as well as convincingly Italian. Imaginative right-hand work on the organ by Kah-Ming Ng neatly avoids the risk of this combination sounding too bass-heavy.

This CD provides a fascinating and hugely stimulating set of snap-shots from over a century of French music for viol, and promises to make many converts for what might seem to be an obscure repertoire.

Mark Argent

Seen and Heard

Best to my ears is a French viol music collection of music by Louis & François Couperin, Corrette, Dumage, Duphly, Dornel & Marais, which rings the changes deliciously upon bowed and plucked strings and keyboard instruments of the period. They are all scholars, but not purists in any restrictive sense, and Kah-Ming Ng describes how they adopt contemporary practice of the period by completing the compositional process in respect of instrumentation, ornamentation and free arrangements. The performances and their recordings are alive with a presence close to memories of hearing them live. Presentation and documentation are immaculate, with the easiest of codes to follow so that you know who is playing which instruments on each track. I have enjoyed all their CDs, but this one, with some ravishing large scale pieces lasting most of ten minutes, is my favourite: The Sultan & the Phoenix SIGCD0032.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Simply delightful

It doesn’t take a connoiseur of French Baroque music to appreciate the delicate appeal of its style. Direct and lively, it can be enjoyed both as a casual entertainment as well as delved into by the serious student of music. The selection of pieces put together by Charivari Agréable demonstrates this admirably.

From the deep contemplation of Louis Couperin’s Pavanne in F-Sharp Minor to the joie-de-vivre of Armand-Louis’ La Cheron, there’s something to appeal to everyone in this album. My particular favorite is the dramatic B-minor ‘Sonate en Quatuor’ by Louis-Antoine Dornel, which rivals the intensity and depth of expression of any more well-known composer.

This album also showcases a rarity in the Baroque: the consort of viols. The viol, or viola da gamba, is a six-stringed fretted instrument, related to the guitar and lute but bowed somewhat like the cello. Made in all sizes, it was considered the “Queen of Instruments” through the Renaissance and Baroque, falling into disuse with the Classical era. (The largest size, the violone, survived with considerable modification to become the modern double bass.) If you have seen the movie Tous les Matins du Monde, then you have seen and heard the viol and the music of some of its greatest proponents.

While music for solo bass viol is a mainstay of the French Baroque, it was rarely used in consort after about 1650. Charivari Agreable here has culled some fine examples of its later use, however, and arranged some pieces to suit a quartet of viols — very true to the nature of Baroque music, which considered the musical line quite separable from the instrument used to realize it. The result is a true gem for anyone, and especially the viol enthusiast.

Marion Edwards

Lute News – No.60

On this delectable disc the three members of Charivari Agréable; Kah-Ming Ng (keyboard), Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba) and Lynda Sayce (lute and theorbo), are joined by four more violists in an exploration of the richly varied soundworld of French viol music in the period from the mid 17th to the mid 18th century. As on previous records from this group many of the pieces are played in arrangements made by its members, and these, it seems to me, are exceptionally well judged both historically and, more importantly, musically. If the recital belongs above all to the violists, lutenist will particularly appreciate Lynda Sayce’s transcription for theorbo of François Couperin’s ever captivating ‘Les baricades mistèrieuses’, which sounds, as all such transcriptions should, as if it had been written with the chosen instrument in mind. Of the unarranged pieces Corrette’s Vivaldian Concert for four bass viols and continuo, subtitled ‘La Phénix’, is exemplary in showing the glorious resonance that these violists draw from their instruments; while the whole recording ends with a captivating performance of the great Chaconne that ends Marais’ 1706 opera Alcione – one of those hypnotically repetitive pieces that I, at least, wish would never end. Evey listener will have his special favourite among the tracks included – mine, I think, are the opening works by Louis Couperin – but none, I suspect, will be disappointed by any of them.This is music making of a superlative order deployed in work that is mostly of the highest quality and some that is relatively little known even to afficionados of the early music scene. Above all it is a recording that breathes life into instruments and compositions which, while always requiring a due respect, were never meant to be treated with rapt reverence alone. In other words ‘The Sultan and the Phoenix’ is a disc that the discerning purchaser would be foolish to miss and an eloquent tribute to how far the early music movement has come since its enthusiastic but sometimes over-earnest early days.

David J Levy

Early Music Review, 10/2001

Of the 15 works recorded here eight are played in arrangements by the performers, a practice of the group that has raised some hackles in the past … including mine but ought not to here, where the new versions inhabit very much the sound-world of the composers concerned and are very artistically done. Some, such as François Couperin’s Les baricades mistèrieuse on theorbo (Lynda Sayce) are perfectly legitimate, unfussy transcriptions, and very well this is played, too. Others could even be said to be enhanced by their new garb, especially the wonderful Pavane by Louis Couperin. The programme as a whole offers a survey of the use of the viol in 17th- and 18th- century France and contrasts short pieces with longer ensemble works, among which F. Couperin’s La Sultane is a particular success, Dornel’s Sonate en quatuor a welcome discovery and Corrette’s unlikely Le Phenix (for four bass viols and continuo – an amazing sound at this low pitch) good fun. Above all this comes across as a very good concert which will give much pleasure to its listeners. Great title, by the way.

David Hansell

CD Review BBC Radio 3

Speaking of arrangements…apparently there was a well-established tradition in French baroque music of embellishment and adaptation; performers were expected to complete the process of composition themselves, even going so far as to turn harpsichord pieces into trio sonatas or works for larger ensembles, all with the tacit approval of the composer. At least that’s the thesis behind the latest CD from the viol consort Charivari Agreable…and I love the rich sound they make in their own version of Louis Couperin’s keyboard piece La Piémontoise.

La Piemontoise by Louis Couperin, a keyboard piece made flesh by the viol consort Charivari Agreable…whose name, by the way, means ‘pleasant tumult’ and this new CD of theirs is certainly that! Originals and arrangements of Couperin, Corrette, Dornel, Duphly and Marais, the CD’s called ‘The Sultan and the Phoenix’ and its on Signum Records.

Andrew MacGregor

Artistic quality 9, Sound quality 9

This could have been just another viol consort disc, but instead it manages to offer some unique and worthwhile perspectives on works by the Couperins Louis, Francois, and Armand-Louis and throws in some very attractive pieces by Jacques Duphly, Marin Marais, Louis-Antoine Dornel, Pierre Dumage, and Michel Corrette. Don’t worry if most of these names aren’t familiar: the music, some presented in its original from, the rest in artful arrangements by members of the early music ensemble Charivari Agreable (‘pleasant tumult’), is eminently listenable and musically satisfying. The Couperins composed mostly for organ and harpsichord, and several of the works here are arranged or adapted from keyboard pieces, most notably Francois’ Les barricades misterieuses, whose sensuous, flowing. suspension-laden lines prove well-suited to a solo theorbo. The bass viol also figures prominently ‘and unusually’ in Corrette’s Le Phenix, a concerto for four bass viols, and in Francois Couperin’s La Sultane (for two bass viols), the cornposer s ‘attempt’ to write a piece in the style of Corelli. Perhaps the most striking of all the works on this program are two by Duphly, La Madin and La Casaubon. Originally for keyboard, the composer also included violin accompaniments; but in this version, harpsichordist Kah-Ming Ng has created settings for two solo treble viols and keyboard that are so thoroughly engaging that you’ll likely want an immediate repeat performance.

The seven performers from the UK-based Charivari Agreable are experienced early music practitioners who have made their mark particularly in performances and recordings of French baroque music. They certainly have a knack for finding appropriate repertoire and, where useful or necessary, adapting it for their own style and instrumentation a practice fully consistent with that of 17th- and 18th-century musicians. The sound is bright and resonant, wanting only a bit more warmth. This is an intelligently created and expertly played program that shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of Baroque instrumental chamber music.

David Vernier

  1. La Piemontoise – Louis Couperin – 2.29
  2. Pavanne in F sharp minor – Louis Couperin – 7.59
  3. Fantasie pour les Violes – Louis Couperin – 3.21
  4. 2e Fantaisie a 5 – Louis Couperin – 1.49
  5. Le Phenix, Concerto in D major: Allegro – Michel Corrette – 2.47
  6. Le Phenix, Concerto in D major: Adagio – Michel Corrette – 3.18
  7. Le Phenix, Concerto in D major: Allegro – Michel Corrette – 3.30
  8. Les baricades misterieuses – Francois Couperin – 3.18
  9. Recit – Pierre Dumage – 2.12
  10. La Sultane – Francois Couperin – 9.08
  11. La Cheron – Armand-Louis Couperin – 4.29
  12. La Madin – Jacques Duphly – 4.08
  13. La Casaubon – Jacques Duphly – 4.17
  14. Sonate en quatour in B minor – Louis-Antoine Dornel – 8.19
  15. Chaconne, from the final act of Alcione – Marin Marais – 7.29