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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Trois Leçons de Ténèbres (ca. 1714) [43:41]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Tombeau pour Sieur de Ste Colombe (1674) [7:28]
Chaconne in A major (pub. 1725) [2:51]
Motet pour le jour de Pâques [7:29]
Monsieur de SAINTE-COLOMBE le FILS (c.1660-1710)
Prélude in E minor [5:00]
Magnificat anima mea [12:04]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzosoprano)
The King’s Consort
rec. 5-7 March 2011, St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, UK

Nicely presented with a thick booklet which has all of the texts and plenty of helpful information, this Vivat recording ticks all of the boxes for a feast of authentic period French religious music. The King’s Consort musicians create the ideal atmosphere for Couperin’s Lamentations, and both vocal soloists are highly effective and deeply expressive. This release enters a market with string competition, not least from William Christie on the Erato label (see review). The soprano voice is a defining aspect of these pieces, and Sophie Daneman’s pure and strong solos are something a bit special. Carolyn Sampson is equally sensitive, though both she and Marianne Beate Kielland are given free rein to develop a natural vibrato, projecting powerfully while avoiding anything too operatic. Couperin’s score is full of subtly expressed emotional and dramatic moments. Contrast the dolorous vocalise opening to track 10 in the Deuxième Leçon with the text ‘Sordes ejus in pedibus ejus’, ‘Her skirts are dirty…’ A kind of humanistic warmth oozes from the organ, but there is no mistaking the desolation in both music and text.
Further interest can be found in the rich selection of additional music in this programme. Marais’s Tombeau is given some remarkable slow vibrato and glissando effects which may catch you as heartrendingly affecting, or give you cause to flinch. The Chaconne in A is easily digested and nicely performed, Susanne Heinrich’s bass viol at times mixing beautifully with the gently thrumming accompaniment.
Couperin’s Motet pour le jour de Pâques has a joyously festive vocal duo for the opening Alleluia, with tender descending lines and a beautifully understated and compact summary of the Easter narrative to follow. The two voices together work sublimely, supported by the scantest of accompaniment. The mood of melancholy is resumed in Monsieur de Saint-Colombe’s solo instrumental Prélude, and the programme is topped off with fine Magnificat, in which the voices once again join in the most delightful of imitative duets.
As you can imagine, this is not the kind of programme to have us dancing in the streets, but these performances and the fascinating musical byways explored make this release stand out somewhat from the crowd. It might be argued that there is little to choose between this and, for instance, Emma Kirkby on the BIS label (see review). It’s a question of personal taste, but I prefer the vocal colour and less overtly dramatic manner of Carolyn Sampson in this instance. There is something about the atmosphere of Robert King’s Ténèbres which makes it more believable than many, and this is a recording which will take you on a very long journey indeed.
Dominy Clements