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GRAMOPHONE (07/2021)
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Château de Versailles

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Recordings of Couperin’s superb Leçons de Ténèbres, setting words from the Lamentations, usually fall into one of two categories: churchy or dramatic. It is perhaps a fair reflection of their earliest performances in the 1710s, which, although part of the observance of Holy Week, could be given either by nuns or by singers brought in from the Opéra. This new recording is definitely in the dramatic camp, as the bright and incisive Florie Valiquette and the slightly warmer, softer Sophie Junker deliver their lines with striking declamatory force, singing boldly into the large spaces of the Royal Chapel at Versailles. One would think that it could overwhelm this delicate music – as La Nuova Musica’s recording with Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts did (Harmonia Mundi, 10/16) – but the acoustic can cope with it, and while one can imagine either of these singers a feisty stage presence as Lully’s Armide or Charpentier’s Médée, the balance is kept between the lamentational drama that is in there to be expressed and the more purely musical requirement for lyrical beauty. Indeed, in this particular regard this is the most successful and communicative interpretation of these pieces I have heard since that of Anne Grimm and Johanette Zomer (Channel Classics, 8/06). The well-varied and dramatically responsive continuo accompaniment of harpsichord, organ, theorbo, bass violin and viola da gamba (which occasionally cuts loose with glowing, unwritten countermelodies of its own) also helps. The bubbling Easter motet Victoria: Christo resurgenti is a similarly conceived, though more joyful, burst of energy.

Strangely, the CD booklet contains no notes on the music itself, although there is a good general article on Couperin. Maybe we can survive that with the relatively well-known Leçons, but I magine there are few who have come across Lalande’s Cantique sur le bonheur des justes before and that some information on it would therefore be welcome. I can tell you, then, that it is a setting of Racine from the 1690s, for one or two voices with or without continuo, cast in a simple, sweetly melodic strophic style. Stéphane Fuget, however, has supplied interesting notes on his thoughts about French Baroque ornamentation, the results of which we can hear freely and convincingly applied in this piece to considerable expressive effect. In summary, an invigorating and refreshing release.

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