Monday, 18 March 2013

A terrific new release from The Kings Consort, on the Vivat Music label, provides rewards at every turn

François Couperin (1668-1733) ‘Le Grand’ was born in Paris, the son of Charles Couperin (1638-79). Couperin’s uncle, Louis Couperin had been organist at St Gervais, Paris but, in 1661, was succeeded by Charles Couperin. When Francois’ father died in 1679, Jacques Thomelin (1640-1693), the organist at St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, became a second father to the ten year old.

François Couperin inherited his father’s post at St Gervais on his eighteenth birthday, the post having been taken during the interim period by Michel-Richard de Lelande (1657-1726). By this time Couperin had already written his two organ masses praised by Leland as ‘fort belles, et dignes d’estre données au public’ – ‘very beautiful, and worthy to be given to the public’.

In 1689, Couperin married Marie Anne Ansault who brought with her a modest dowry. Couperin became Court organist in 1693 and, in 1694, became Teacher and Master of Harpsichord at Versailles. During the last fifteen years of the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715), Couperin established himself as one of the leading French composers of the day. Couperin died in Paris in 1733.

His works include four book of works for harpsichord (1713), (1717), (1722) and (1730), two mass settings (Messe pour les paroisses for the parishes and Messe pour les couvents for the monasteries) (1690), pieces for several instruments including six Trio Sonatas (c.1690), Les nations (1726), Apothéoses (trio suites) (1724), Les concerts royaux (1714), Nouveaux concerts or les goûts réunis (1724),

Pièces de violes (1728), Leçons de ténèbres (1714), Antiphons, psalm settings & canticles, Offertories, Motets and a number of songs.

Couperin had a great interest in Italian music and, in particular, the trio sonata. He later said that his intention had been to effect a union of French and Italian style. This is particularly evident in Les nations (1726) and in his suites for bass viols (1728).

A new release from Vivat Music features the Kings Consort in music by Francois Couperin, Marin Marais and Saint-Colombe. Robert King (organ) is joined by Susanne Heinrich (bass viol), Lynda Sayce (theorbo) and soloists Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano). Let me say at the outset this is a terrific disc that provides rewards at every turn.

The first works on this new disc are François Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Ténèbres (1714). Première Leçon opens with a beautifully clear voiced Carolyn Sampson (soprano), who provides some lovely singing in decorative passages. She really brings out the pathos of this piece with some terrific singing, so controlled with lovely dynamics. In places Sampson rises to some wonderfully powerful singing with Robert King and his fine players providing lovely support. In the last section of this piece there is some lovely playing from Robert King, Susanne Heinrich and Lynda Sayce before Carolyn Sampson enters with a long held ‘Jerusalem’. What fine singing this is, with excellent instrumentalists that complement each other so well.

In Deuxieme Leçon, Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano) is equally attractive in her opening, with a rich, full voice that makes a perfect blend with the bass viol as well as organ and theorbo. She has wonderful vocal agility with sensitive and controlled singing; and great power when required. In the penultimate section there is a wonderfully affecting opening for voice, organ and viol and in the final section some lovely blending of organ and viol, exquisitely beautiful.

Troisieme Leçon brings the voices of Carolyn Sampson and Marianne Beate Kielland together and what a lovely combination they make, blending beautifully with the instrumentalists as well as each other. These two first rate soloists weave around each other, then alternate, before coming together again with some exquisite singing. Just listen how their long held notes combine together. In the fourth section of this work, the blending of the two voices with the instruments is really quite moving. Later there is almost a conversational feel to the singing and, as both singers come together in ‘Jerusalem’, there is a wonderful texture with such lovely singing. This is perfection.

Marin Marais (1656-1728) was born in Paris and studied composition with Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and for a short while with Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (c.1640-1700).  In 1676 he became a musician at the Court of Versailles and, in 1679, was appointed ‘ordinaire de la chambre du roy pour la viole’.

Marais’ works include pieces for one, two and three viols, pieces for various instruments, operas and sacred works.

Marais’ Tombeau pour Sieur de Sainte Colombe, included in his Book 2 of Pièces de Viole of 1701, is a homage to his teacher who is believed to have died shortly before. There are superb sounds from Susanne Heinrich’s bass viol as the work commences, with theorbo blending exquisitely as the organ provides bass support. This is wonderful viol playing in this unusual work that draws some unusual sounds.

Marais’ Chaconne in A major comes from his Fifth Book of Pièces de Viole published in 1725. This fine ensemble gives a wonderfully expressive performance with again Susanne Heinrich proving to be a brilliant advocate in superb playing.

Couperin’s Motet pour le jour de Pâques was written for the Chapelle Royale after he became Court organist in 1693. Soprano Carolyn Sampson and mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland come together in the lively opening of this motet for Easter Day. The instrumentalists provide terrific support, each instrument sounding through. Marianne Beate Kielland gives some lovely rich expressive sounds and both she and Carolyn Sampson are wonderful in the faster moving sections, again showing their ability to blend superbly.

Not a lot is known about Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils (the son) (c.1660-1710). He is thought to be the son of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (c.1640-1700), the celebrated master of the viola da gamba, or at least closely related to him. It is known that he lived in Edinburgh and that six suites for solo bass viol by a Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils are held in the Durham Cathedral library.

Just one work by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils is included on this disc, his Prelude for viol which provides Susanne Heinrich the perfect vehicle for a performance of stunning technical accomplishment as well as sensitivity to every phrase.

The final work on this disc is Couperin’s Magnificat anima mea from the same Versailles manuscript as the Easter motet. As the work opens, soprano Carolyn Sampson is soon joined by mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, weaving lovely vocal sounds. It may be my imagination but there seems to be a French sound to Carolyn Sampson’s Latin pronunciation that is very appealing. There is some terrific singing and instrumental playing in this uplifting work where both soloists bring a great end to this wonderful disc.

Anyone with the slightest interest in baroque music should acquire these beautiful performances. In fact, such are the beauties of these performances, I would recommend this disc to anyone. The recording is first rate and the booklet notes by Robert King are excellent. There are full texts and translations.


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