The Leçons des tenèbres are extraordinary works, some of the most expressive and beautiful music ever produced by the French school of the time. No surprise that there are so many recordings, including several classics. So this new disc is not an an outright winner, but up there at the very top. Two of the very best singers in this repertory, at the top of their form, with a superbly judged and played accompaniment by a small group of players. This very strong sense of an ensemble performance is a major reason to rate this so highly, alongside the lovely balance achieved by the sound engineer. The smaller items are also elegantly and expressively played, and sustain the reflective mood. In performances like these this music has an emotional impact one does not always associate with the French baroque - I find these pieces quite mesmerising, and would recommend this disc enthusiastically to anyone.
I picked up this cd on a whim - drawn by the names of Couperin, Marais and Sainte-Colombe, three composers whose music I always find fascinating and beautiful in any format. This cd offers firstly Francois Couperin `Le Grand' (1668-1733) Trois Leçons de Ténèbres (Première, Deuxième and Troisième). These three surviving Leçons (for Maundy Thursday) were written probably around 1714, based on the Lamentations of Jeremiah from the Old Testament. Sacred music was becoming popular in the Court of Louis XIV (1638-1715) around this time, and Couperin was an organist at the Chappelle Royale, appointed by Louis in 1693.
Next on the cd is Marin Marais (1656-1728) Tombeau pour Sieur de Ste Colombe (well known from the film Tous les matins du monde about the relationship between Sainte-Colombe and his pupil Marais), and a Chaconne in A Major published first in 1725.
Then back to Couperin for Motet pour le jour de Pâques written for the Chapelle Royale between 1690 and 1703. Sainte-Colombe le fils (the son) (c.1660-1710) Prélude in E minor, and finally Couperin to finish off with Magnificat anima mea.
The King's Consort, on authentic instruments (bass viol, theorbo and chamber organ) are joined by Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and Marianne Beate Kiellane (mezzosoprano). This is wonderfully lyrical and beautiful music, both instrumental and vocal and the voices (instrumental and vocal voices) ring out clearly yet beautifully bell-like in their perfection. The booklet offers the words and English translations, and the cd has over 78 minutes of wonderful early eighteenth century French music to be enjoyed over and over. Definitely recommended.
This, the second release on the new Vivat label (the first being I Was Glad), is centred around the three surviving Leçons de Ténèbres of François Couperin. Like the Parry and Stanford release we again have high production values, an informative booklet and the benefit of a new musical perspective.
Personally appointed to the Chapelle Royale by Louis XIV, the Sun King, Couperin brought a new intensity of expression to sacred music, using smaller forces than was the tradition of the time. It seems originally there was a complete set of nine Leçons for Holy Week. These were most likely performed at the abbey at Longchamps, just west of Paris, attended (unlikely as it may seem) by fashionable Parisian society, no doubt suffering withdrawal symptoms brought on by the closure of the opera houses in the period leading up to Easter.
The emphasis of the album is one of reflection and lamentation: as well as the Leçons we have an Easter motet, a magnificat, and a series of pieces for bass viol played by Susanne Heinrich.
The first two Leçons are solo, gradually building in intensity and reaching a culmination in the third, a duet, where the voices of Carolyn Sampson and Marianne Beate Kielland interweave in a powerfully intense evocation of Jeremiah's rebuke to the people of Jerusalem. The continuo is subtle and understated, but underpins the unfolding drama - with its exquisite suspensions and dissonances - beautifully. The atmosphere leading up to Tenebrae, with the candles gradually extinguished one by one, is bewitchingly caught.
Marais' lament on the death of his teacher, the great Monsieur de Ste Colombe, follows the Leçons; a remarkable tombeau for viola da gamba, given great weight and conviction in this performance by Heinrich. She resists any temptation to self-indulge in rhythmic waywardness and the effect is all the more moving for that.
A prelude by Ste Colombe's son and a magnificat by Couperin round off what is a coherent, measured and ultimately deeply affecting response to the reflections of Holy Week.
My, Robert King has been busy since coming out of prison. It's monstrous that a convicted child abuser who showed no remorse at his trial (for he commented in the dock that all those levelling allegations against him were "absolute" liars) can seemingly be rehabilitated back into classical music. Shame on all those involved in this sorry CD.