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Michel LAMBERT (c.1610-1696)
Les Leçons de ténèbres (1689)
Noémi Rime (soprano)
Nathalie Stutzmann (alto)
Charles Brett (counter tenor)
Howard Crook (tenor)
Philippe Foulon (viola da gamba)
Mauricio Buraglia (theorbo)
Ivète Piveteau (organ, direction)
rec. L’Abbaye de Royaumont, October 1988
VIRGIN VERITAS 3857892 [69:43 + 72:06] 


Michel Lambert is best known now for his airs, of which some three hundred survive and this is reflected in his discography.  But the maître de la musique de la chambre du roi – whose son-in-law Lully was his superior in the royal household - also wrote two Leçons de ténèbres twenty-five years apart. The first was written in 1663 and the second, recorded here back in 1988, in 1689.

Both sets of Leçons are rooted in the vocal techniques espoused in the Airs and they were written to be sung by the same singers of the Chambre du Roi. The singers were all intimates of the composer – his sister-in-law Hilaire Dupuy was among them – and Lambert is known to have accompanied on the theorbo. Lambert’s settings are more austere and symmetrical than later composers  - Couperin, say, whose relative floridity of expression makes these earlier settings sound restrained in expressive breadth. But that of course is a false position to adopt. Lambert’s use of the Roman tonus lamentationum chant and the limiting of verbal flourishes to phrase endings generates a definable depth of feeling, a spiritual depth, that suffuses alL the settings that make up the second set of Leçons.

These performances were recorded in the Abbaye de Royaumont in October 1988. They were made under the direction of Ivète Piveteau who gathered around him a fine quartet of singers. The Première Leçon du Mecredi Saint is one of the most static and reflective of all, and is here sung by countertenor Charles Brett with plaintively phrased assurance. His performance in the Première Leçon du Jeudi Saint is perhaps more of an acquired taste – weirdly effective in its almost disembodied estate. Nathalie Stutzmann adds her by now distinctive voice to her settings – expressive without undue ostentation and who negotiates the taxing demands of Jersulam, convertere in the Deuxième Leçons with distinction. She finds the right tone, weight and sense of colour for the Nun of the Deuxième Leçon du Jeudi Saint. The Troisième Leçons du Mecredi Saint is entrusted to soprano Noémi Rime whose voice preserves a strength missing in more vocally “white” performances. She can however lighten the voice sensitively, which she takes care to do in the Deuxième Leçon du Vendredi Saint – listen to her singing of the setting of the Vau here.  Howard Crook’s soft-grained tenor and intelligent use of texts is especially audible in the Troisième Leçon du Jeudi Saint and this mellifluous fluency is one of the high point of the two discs.

The accompaniment is vivid and sensitively shaped, adding plangency and depth to the performances. This setting of the 1689 Leçons is rare on disc and Lambert’s concentrated and refined expression is matched by comparable performances.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Mark Sealey



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