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François Couperin 'Le Grand', Marais, de Sainte-Colombe, Francois Couperin: Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano); Susanne Heinrich (bass-viol); Lynda Sayce (theorbo) Robert King (chamber organ) Wigmore Hall, London, 4. 3. 2011 (KC)

François Couperin 'Le Grand': Magnificat anima mea

Marin Marais: Chaconne in A

Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils: Prelude in E minor

François Couperin: Motet pour le jour de Paques

François Couperin: Trois Leçons de Ténèbres (solo; solo; duo)

The concert consisted of exquisite music, immaculately performed. The Couperin items were miniatures of religious music, written for Louis XIV. They were designed for intimate and private performance (perhaps at Marly), unlike the Grand Motets of de Lalande heard in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles. The result is a collection of motets whose emotions shimmer with an intensity more private than is usually the case in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century music. The works are short; the emotions shift rapidly, yet with ease. Keys change suddenly; harmonies are often unexpected, dissonant and affecting. Frequently, attention focuses on particular words or phrases - suddenly and tellingly. In this respect, the motets resemble song-cycles of well over a century later.

Carolyn Sampson has a warm, mellow soprano. She projects the baroque style and its elegance of phrasing with meticulous attention. This was 'period' performance in the truest sense: flawless articulation of the idiom of the time by a musician thoroughly versed in its direction and intent. Thus, in the Magnificat, we heard eleven different sections in as many minutes. She glided seamlessly into each change of emphasis, bearing in mind the need above all to present the work as a unity - and also the need not to move out of period by over-emphasizing the emotions involved. There was a calm and judicious beauty to her singing.

Marianne Beate Kielland complemented her totally. Hers is a rare voice and a delight to listen to. She has the clarity and sharpness of a tranquil, pure-voiced, supremely controlled soprano (such as Teresa Stich-Randall) with the bonus, to a mezzo, of a clear, warm lower register, not over-rich. This gives her singing great versatility when shifting from higher to lower pitch. She is capable of variety of vocal colouring and change of intensity fit to accompany any change of verbal emphasis.

The Motet pour le jour de Paques and the last of the Trois Leçons de Ténèbres are duets. The combined voices of Carolyn Sampson and Marianne Beate Kielland produced a sound of rare beauty. The two voices - one clearly distinct from the other (warm soprano and distilled mezzo) - intertwined elegantly and formally, as close and integrally related as the strands of a double helix. This was singing of high distinction.

I could hear Robert King from time to time, though not when he spoke to the audience. Unfortunately, Susanne Heinrich's and Lynda Sayce's playing reached me at the back of the hall so infrequently, that I can make no comment on their performances. I am sure they excelled.

Ken Carter

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