Delia Agúndez, Magdelena Padilla (soprano), Jesús María García Aréjula (baritone)
La Bellemont (Sara Ruiz (pardessus de viole, viola da gamba), Rafael Muñoz (archlute, theorbo), Laura Puerto (organ))
Johanna Rose (pardessus de viole)
rec. 16-18 November 2012, Auditorio del Complejo Cultural Residencial Fray Luis de León de Guadarrama, Madrid, Spain. DDD
Texts and translations included ITINERANT RECORDS IE001 [50:24]
François Couperin is best-known for his instrumental and
keyboard works. He also composed quite a number of vocal works, but
that part of his output remains in shadow with the exception of the
three Leçons de Ténèbres which count among the most renowned
vocal works for Passiontide. These also belong among the very few vocal
compositions from Couperin's pen which were printed during his
lifetime. Most of his vocal works are preserved in manuscript and it
is assumed that a considerable part of his output in this genre has
It is not known exactly why he wrote sacred music. In 1693 he was appointed
organiste du roi but it is unlikely that it was his duty to
compose vocal music for the royal chapel. However, it is generally assumed
that most of his sacred music was connected to the chapel and was written
between 1693 and 1715, the latter being the year of Louis XIV's
death. Most of the motets are of the petit motet genre, scored
for one or several solo voices and basso continuo, sometimes with two
additional melody parts, usually for violins. An example of the latter
is Ad te levavi oculos meos in which the two treble parts are
played here on pardessus de viole.
Most motets have para-liturgical texts. Venite exultemus is
written for a service to the Blessed Sacrament: the fourth section refers
to "eating Jesus' flesh" and "drinking the blood
of Christ". In the treatment of the text Couperin's motets
show the influence of the Italian style. It has been suggested that
he was inspired here by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the most prominent
exponent of the Italian style in France in the late 17th century. In
this particular motet it comes to the fore in the exclamations in the
third section: "Oh, immense love, oh, admirable banquet, oh, adorable
mystery". Couperin uses the interplay of the two soprano voices
effectively to express the content of this episode and its affects.
He does the same in the third Leçon de Ténèbres where he creates
harmonic progressions full of tension. Another specimen of Italian influence
is in the centre of Regina coeli laetare, a piece for Easter;
the second and third lines having the character of a recitative.
Ad te levavi oculos meos is a solo motet for bass. There is
a strong contrast between the first and the second sections. The opening
line, "Unto thee lift I up mine eyes", is set to an ascending
figure. The opening line of the second section marks the shift to a
rather dark mood: "Have mercy upon us, Lord". The doxology
is set to a dance rhythm. Domine salvum fac regem is on a text
which was very much a fixed part of the liturgy in the royal chapel.
The chapel's frescos contain an angel holding up the inscription
with these words: "Lord, save the King". Couperin's
motet opens with a descending tetrachord ostinato and closes with a
Some of Couperin's motets are written for the feast of a saint.
The programme of the present disc ends with a motet for St Augustine,
Jucunda vox Ecclesiae: "The joyful voice of the Church
Augustine's memory exults with joy for the greater glory of God".
It is for three voices and basso continuo and the joyful content is
very much reflected by Couperin's music, with an ingenious interplay
of the three voices.
As far as I know not all of Couperin's sacred works are available
on disc. That is quite surprising considering their quality. The present
disc includes some fine examples of the composer's skill in setting
a text. Obviously the Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres is the most
famous example. It is regrettable that it has been included here as
the set of three Leçons de Ténèbres are available in quite
a number of recordings. That said, this performance of the third Leçon
is one of the best I know. Delia Agúndez and Magdalena Padilla are a
perfect match. Their good intonation results in the harmonic tension
coming off to maximum effect and expression is served well by the way
they treat the text. The exclamations in Venite exultemus reflect
the influence of the Italian style and should be given an expressive
performance that avoids exaggeration. This is French music after all,
and the elegance and restraint which are features of the French style
should be observed. That is certainly the case here. Jesús María García
Aréjula finds exactly the right approach in Ad te levavi; the
second section is full of pathos within the boundaries of the French
The motets are surrounded by instrumental works written by some of Couperin's
contemporaries. Obviously the viola da gamba plays a major role here;
it was one of the main instruments, and Couperin himself wrote two suites
for it. It is especially interesting that two pieces by the son of Sieur
(probably Jean) de Sainte Colombe are played. He lived in London for
some time and his extant music is preserved in English sources. It has
been suggested that he moved to England for religious reasons. His father
disappeared from the music scene at the end of the 17th century, probably
because of Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes and
his declaring Protestantism illegal. Sainte Colombe senior was one of
the greatest viol players of his time and he has become particularly
famous for his concerts à deux violes esgales. It is fitting
that Couperin's third Leçon is followed by Les pleurs
- the tears, from the Concert Tombeau Les regrets.
Guillaume Gabriel Nivers was one of the leading organists at the end
of the 17th century who has become especially known for his editions
of liturgical music. Louis Couperin is almost exclusively connected
to music for harpsichord but for many years he acted as organist. His
oeuvre for this instrument has been preserved in a single manuscript.
Lastly, Angelo Michele Bartolotti was a theorbo player from Bologna
who had settled in France and published here a treatise for the playing
of the basso continuo on the theorbo.
The instrumental pieces are nicely played and fit well into the programme.
It attests to the sensitive way in which the artists have put it together.
The result is a compelling disc whose only minus is its short playing
time. I would have liked to hear more from these performers.
Track listing Monsieur DE SAINTE-COLOMBE le fils (early 18th C) P'relude pour les violes [3:11] François COUPERIN (1668-1733) Venite exultemus Domino [3:53] Regina coeli laetare [3:59] Guillaume Gabriel NIVERS (c.1632-1714) Prélude pour l'orgue [1:07] François COUPERIN Domine salvum fac Regem [3:05] Louis COUPERIN (c.1626-1661) Fugue [1:58] François COUPERIN Ad te levavi oculos meos [8:25] Angelo Michele BARTOLOTTI (?-after 1668) Passacorde pour le théorbe [0:47] Monsieur DE SAINTE-COLOMBE le fils Fantaisie en rondeau [3:47] François COUPERIN Troisième leçon de Ténèbres [11:41] Monsieur DE SAINTE-COLOMBE le père (?-c.1701) Concert Tombeau Les regrets: Les pleurs [2:25] François COUPERIN Motet de Saint Augustin (Jucunda vox Ecclesiae) [6:18]