Thursday, 26 March 2015

A first rate disc from Harmonia Mundi of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres, featuring soprano Sophie Karthäuser with Ensemble Correspondances directed by Sébastien Daucé, comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round

Although better known as the leading composer of late Baroque grands motets, writing over seventy such compositions, Michel-Richard de Lalande’s (1657-1726) posts at the Musique de la Chambre du Roi led him to compose smaller scale compositions such as his Leçons de Ténèbres. Written for use during Holy Week they conformed to the guidelines of sobriety and restraint expected by the Church.

A new release from Harmonia Mundi brings his III Leçons de Ténèbres et le Miserere a voix seule (Ténèbre lessons and Miserere for single voice), published in 1730 after the composer’s death, performed by Ensemble Correspondances  and directed by Sébastien Daucé  with soprano Sophie Karthäuser

HMC 902206

Ensemble Correspondances is a suitably small ensemble consisting of harpsichord, two bass viols, theorbo, lute and organ. The choir, used selectively in certain parts of the work, consists of six sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos.

The published score of Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres does not give a complete cycle of Leçons, only the third for each of the holy days, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

This recording opens with the antiphon, O Mors (O death) where the choir take the part that would have been sung by nuns, bringing some lovely sonorities.  

Lalande’s Miserere follows with the instrumentalists of Ensemble Correspondances bringing fine rich textures to the opening of Miserere mei Deus - before the pure soprano voice of Sophie Karthäuser joins. The choir alone enters to sing Et secundum multitudinem miserationem tuarum. Karthäuser brings a fine forward moving Amplius lava me with lovely accompaniment from the instrumentalists before the choir returns for the lovely chant, Tibi soli peccavi.

This soprano shows her beautifully controlled and refined voice in Ecce enim in iniquitatibus.  When the choir enters with instrumentalists and soprano for Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti they receive a beautifully sensitive, subtle accompaniment from the organ played here by the director, Sébastien Daucé. Asperges me hyssopo brings some very fine instrumental sounds that complement the soprano extremely well. She has a superbly flexible voice, flowing effortlessly forward with some very lovely long held phrases, before the choir joins bringing mellifluous singing to Averte faciem tuam.

As the soprano pleads Cor mundumcrea in me, Deus (Create in me a clear heart) she brings much feeling with her lovely voice, so suitable to this repertoire. There are more fine sounds from the choir in Ne projicias me (Cast me not away) and the soprano displays fine control and flexibility as she sails through all the little decorations Redde mihi lætitiam before the choir responds in Docebo iniquos vias tuas bringing some lovely textures and layering of voices.

The varying rhythms and tempi of Libera me de sanguinibus are expertly handled by this soprano and instrumentalists with fine decorations before Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium where the choir bring many lovely subtleties of tone. Sophie Karthäuser brings a fine sensibility to Sacrificium Deo Spiritus Contribulatus before the choir sings Benigne Fac Domine. Tunc acceptabis has fine rhythmic bounce as this soprano brings more fine flexibility as the Miserere concludes.

The responsorium Tristis est anima mea (My soul is sorrowful) that follows is simply and gently sung by the choir with fine restraint sounding just right in the fine acoustic of La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France.

With the III Leçons de Ténèbres each verse of the text, excepting the Third lesson for Good Friday, is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, elaborately ornamented to contrast with the text that follows. 

With Troisième Leçon du Mercredy saint (Third lesson for Holy Wednesday) soprano Sophie Karthäuser opens Jod. Manum suam misit hostis with a gentle instrumental accompaniment, the Hebrew letter Jod decorated, but in a very gentle manner, before picking up tempo with more finely decorated passages.

There is a lovely pathos to Caph. Omnis populus ejus before Vide Domine that has a vibrant opening before pathos is again allowed to creep in.  The brief Lamed brings some particularly fine, pure voiced singing from Karthäuser before the finely controlled O vos omnes where there are nicely sprung passages, superbly woven instrumental sounds with this soprano bringing much feeling.

The soprano really soars in the beautiful opening to. Mem. De excelso before a beautifully decorated Nun leads into Vigilavit with this soprano providing extremely fine decorations.

Infirmata Est has a lovely flow with the instrumentalists blending their textures perfectly with the soprano’s lovely voice and leading to the final Jerusalem that is full of passion.

The choir bring more lovely simple and direct singing with fine textures to the responsorium Ecce vidimus eum (Behold we shall see him) a lovely contrast to the more elaborate settings that precede.

Troisième Leçon du Jeudy saint (Third lesson for Maundy Thursday) opens with a beautifully decorated, flowing Aleph from the soprano and organ before the instrumentalists lead on with soprano Sophie Karthäuser in Ego vir videns rising in some dramatic passages, full of passion.  Aleph. Me minavit is full of pathos, wonderfully decorated before the instrumentalists lead off with spirit, Karthäuser weaving some fine passages.

There is a wonderfully decorated, fluent ‘Aleph’ before a nicely paced Aleph. Tantum in me vertit such with such fine feeling.  The soprano shows such brilliant vocal control in Beth. Vetustam fecit with some very fine instrumental contributions.

After a lovely opening Beth, Aedificavit in gyro meo brings some lovely phrasing and control in superb singing from Sophie Karthäuser. After the opening Beth, In tenebrosis adopts a slow plodding tempo out of which the soprano brings a fine atmosphere with exquisitely controlled, subtle singing. Ghimel. Circum ædificavit soon finds a lively upbeat manner with some very fine vibrant instrumental playing.

There is much feeling given to Sed, Et Cum Clamavero (Ghimel) by this soprano, full of passion, brilliantly sung. After the brief opening Ghimel, Conclusit vias meas moves ahead with some fine instrumental moments and this soprano in fine voice before the concluding Jerusalem that brings a passionate appeal from the soprano.

Vinea mea electa (O my noble vine) sees the return of the choir bringing a gentle, finely voiced, beautifully nuanced responsorium.

Troisième Leçon du Vendredy saint (Third lesson for Good Friday) opens with Sophie Karthäuser providing a lovely mellifluous tone with fine decorations in Incipit oratio before bringing fine vocal textures and colours to Recordare showing her attractive well controlled vibrato. Pupilli facti sumus has a lovely rhythmic pulse, a gentle mellow instrumental contribution from Ensemble.

There is a finely decorated Cervicibus nostris before a flowing Lassis non dabatur with Karthäuser drawing superb long breathed melodic lines with fine instrumental accompaniment and a gentle rhythmic pulse. This soprano has a superb vocal control. She rises through Recordare  to Ægypto dedimus manum, a passionate section finding much feeling as well as providing some lovely little decorations. In Animabus Nostris is beautifully controlled with Karthäuser’s flexible voice following every little line to perfection, with terrific accompaniment.

There is more, fine instrumental playing in Pellis nostra and the slower Mulieres brings finely drawn lines, lovely textures and this soprano’s lovely tone before the concluding Jerusalem that subtly grows in power as the soprano appeals ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem , return to the Lord thy God’.

The choir bring a suitably subdued ending to Leçons de Ténèbres with the responsorium Plange quasi virgo (Mourn as a virgin).

Lalande’s Leçons de Ténèbres and Miserere provide some fine opportunities for these fine artists who deliver performances that are spectacularly good. Soprano, Sophie Karthäuser is particularly fine, bringing some absolutely terrific moments in these lovely settings.

The recording from La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France is first rate and there are excellent booklet notes as well as full texts and translations.

This is a first rate disc that comes just in time for Easter but will provide much pleasure all year round.

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