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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Première leçon de ténèbres [14:00]
Louis COUPERIN (c.1626-61)
Pavane in F sharp minor [8:17]
François COUPERIN
Deuxième leçon de ténèbres [10:51]
Pompe funèbre [4:22]
Troisième leçon de ténèbres [10:38]
Louis COUPERIN
Les carillons de Paris [1:41]
Caroline Mutel, Karine Deshayes (soprano)
Les Nouveaux Caractères/Sébastien d'Hérin
rec. 2019, Chapelle de la Trinité, Lyon, France
GLOSSA GCD922703 [50:00]

It has been said that some of the most atmospheric musical settings of Holy Week liturgy are those composed for the Office of Tenebrae, the text of which is from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which was originally a lament for the siege and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.  However, over time, those three days of mourning for Jerusalem came instead to represent the three days of mourning for Christ between his crucifixion and resurrection. There have been many fine settings of the Lamentations, from the early English work by Thomas Tallis through to some notable twentieth century examples, but those by Tomás Luis de Victoria and various Italian composers are among the most popular, especially the more dramatic versions by Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. The Lamentations came late to France and were initially popularised by Michel Richard De Lalande, who composed a set to be sung before Louis XIV by his fifteen-year-old daughter. It was here that the designated days were changed from the usual Thursday to Saturday in Spain and Italy, to the Wednesday of Holy Week until Good Friday and the master Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who composed around fifty settings of the Ténèbres responses.

Regarding other French settings, those by François Couperin tend to follow the example of Gesualdo in that his settings were more dramatic than normal, despite being designed to be sung by ‘Dames Religieuses L***’ (nuns of the abbey of Longchamp). As I said in my review of Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen’s recent release (CDA68093), these three settings of the leçon de ténèbres are for Holy Wednesday or Le Mercredi Saint, the first day of the Sacrum Triduum, those of Le jeudi Saint and Le vendredi Saint, although thought to have been completed, having been lost.

I still maintain, however, that the William Christie recording (0630-17067-2), although now twenty-three years old, is the preferable choice, as Sophie Daneman and Patricia Petibon have a greater purity of voice than Caroline Mutel and Karine Deshayes, who are nonetheless the equals of Katherine Watson and Anna Dennis and blend perfectly when they are called upon to sing together in the Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres. The additions of the three instrumental pieces are welcome, Sébastien d'Hérin’s harpsichord playing in Louis Couperin’s Pavane being excellent; however, it is the playing of the ensemble in the other two pieces, especially the characterful Les carillons de Paris, again by Louis, which leaves the greatest impression. That being said, even with those three additions, the overall time, like that of the Christie, is a little disappointing.

I will say, therefore, that although the overall performance is very good, it doesn’t quite match Christie’s. Sadly, however, that is now only available as a download, so if it is the physical article you want then the choice is between this new recording and that of Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, with perhaps the coupling being the deciding feature. The recording boasts some of the best sound of any of the recordings I now know. The booklet notes are in English, French and German but the texts are reproduced only in the Vulgate Latin with an English translation, similar to the Hyperion disc.

Stuart Sillitoe



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