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Michel-Richard de Lalande- Leçons de Ténèbres
Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726)
Leçon du Mercredy, [17:36]
Leçon du Jeudy, [22:27]
Leçon du Vendredy, [12:04]
MARIN MARAIS (1656-1728)
Tombeau pour Monsieur de Lully, [6:16]
Tombeau de Sainte-Colombe, [6:33]
Robert de Visée (1660-1720)
Tombeau des Mesdemoiselles de Visée, [3:36]
Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661)
Tombeau de Monsieur de Blancrocher, [4:08]
Isabelle Desrochers (soprano); Mauricio Buraglia (theorbo); Nima Ben David (viola da gamba); Pierre Trocellier (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 1996, France. DDD
NAIVE E 8913 [73:05]

Here is a generous disc - almost an hour and a quarter of wonderful music - centring on the Leçons de Ténèbres by French Baroque composer Michel-Richard de Lalande. These are set in the context, and interleaved with, four much shorter pieces in the tombeau style by almost exact contemporaries of de Lalande, Marin Marais, Robert de Visée; and uncle to François Couperin, Louis, from the preceding generation. Soprano Isabelle Desrochers is joined by harpsichordist/organist Pierre Trocellier with Mauricio Buraglia (theorbo) and Nima Ben David to perform music of great beauty, eloquence and atmosphere. It’s all imaginatively conceived and excellently played.

Michel-Richard de Lalande was one of the most influential and accomplished composers of sacred music for performance by women at the court of Versailles in the years around the beginning of the eighteenth century. At a time when most such music was the province of male voices, it was almost certainly because of the gifts of de Lalande’s wife, Anne Rebel, and their two daughters, Marie-Anne and Jeanne that the composer set such store by music he obviously deemed suitable for their particular talents. Of this corpus, his three surviving Leçons de Ténèbres are not only the most typical examples, but the most expressive and persuasive. On the sequence in this recording are the third leçons only (the other two in each case have been lost; we would have had nine in all) for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week.

Sombre, slow, pensive and intense, the leçons last 18, 22 and 12 minutes respectively. A single solo soprano almost guides the continuo players - and would have originally led the congregation - through an Old Testament (‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’) narration. This accompanies the gradual extinguishing of candles in the place of worship until there is complete darkness.

Rarely (as towards the start of the leçon for Thursday) is the downbeat and subdued mood broken. Chromatic, studied, depressed almost, the leçons are highly evocative. And the forces assembled here for part of Naïve’s (though issued by Audivis/Astrée in 1996) ‘Baroque Voices’ series (number 6) are extremely well attuned to that evocation. Gentle, undemonstrative, inward-looking and helped by a quiet and intimate recording, they really make the most of music that deserves to be played and replayed until it has seeped into the listener as incense might into the heads of believers.

Since the leçons took the form of Odes, there is a declamatory element to them. Indeed, they each end with an exhortation to Jerusalem to ‘Convertere: Turn to the Lord, thy God’. Perhaps Desrochers dismisses the dramatic potential for this ever so slightly; the music is chromatic and contains tensions building on expectations that would have made such an interpretation natural. But this is a small point. Her singing is solid, appropriately rich and direct; yet relaxed and delivered in such a way that the music speaks for itself. There is no dressing here.

Between the leçons, then, are tombeaux or commemorative encomia of a (recently) dead member of the composer’s family or of a luminary in (local) musical or cultural circles. Consciously avoiding any attempt to recreate the full Leçons de Ténèbres service with any degree of authenticity, this CD includes four tombeaux appropriate to French Baroque music of the late seventeenth century. Eventually tombeaux took the form of ‘allemandes’ and acquired the status of a respected genre in their own right. Interestingly, and touchingly, Tombeau des Mesdemoiselles de Visée remembers his daughters. The tombeaux for both Blancrocher (a lutenist who fell down stairs) and Lully (who accidentally stabbed himself with a baton) recall violent deaths.

The booklet is useful, contains the texts in Latin, French, English and Spanish. This is satisfying, stimulating and somehow unpretentiously genuine music making that will have wide appeal. There are other versions available of most of the material here. But this can safely be recommended.

Mark Sealey


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