Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726) Leçons de Ténèbres - Troisièmes Leçons du Mercredy, du Jeudy, du Vendredy et Miserere
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
rec. July 2014, La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902206 [76:23]
The prevailing element that marks out Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres is restraint and sobriety, which is not surprising as these were the qualities laid down by the Church as fitting for performances during Holy Week. The small forces involved reinforce these elements in which the French strain of ‘beau chant’ co-existed with the Gregorian inheritance of simple recitation. By the time his Leçons had been published in 1730, Lalande had been dead four years. Interestingly the published edition contains only the Leçons for each of the three holy days, not a complete cycle. It’s not impossible that these are the three Leçons that Lalande revised before his death before he had time to edit the remainder.
So, despite the relative obscurity of their origin, the surviving music conforms to the expected pieties of the genre, which never approach the grander and more public expressiveness of the works of Charpentier or François Couperin. There is some historical authority for the shifting continuo ensemble heard in this recording directed by organist Sébastien Daucé and their ritournelli offer sonic variety when they are deployed between the various movements. The vocal responsibilities fall principally on soprano Sophie Karthäuser who sings with tonal purity and technical accomplishment though sometimes with elements of what I detect as a Kožená-like vibrato that may, or may not, prove a stylistic distraction given the essentially withdrawn nature of the settings. Certainly the vibrato tends to flare out after the note is established to a noticeable degree.
Some of the sung music is not found in that 1730 published edition. Alternate verses, not set to music by the composer, were intended to be sung by the nuns who often took an active musical role in the Offices of Holy Week. Thus in the 1730 edition they are printed simply as plainchant whereas in this recording we hear the harmonised versions for three voices made by Lalande’s contemporary Sébastien de Brossard. Another interesting historical insight is provided by the employment of organ or viols to enrich the continuo part, a feature alluded to earlier, where the performers even venture some counter-melodies - which was also, it seems, an accepted practice of the time. In addition to the three Leçons we hear the Miserere mei Deus where Lalande gently pulls the rug from tradition by grouping verses in pairs to foreground the expressive potential of Psalm 50. The effect is extremely sympathetic in this performance.
The booklet has an excellent and detailed note, and the recording is first class. Throughout, the watchwords are grace, refinement, elegance and a meditative control of tempi and instrumental colour. It’s a disc that will give real pleasure.