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
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.
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.
see also Review
by Mark Sealey