«Cet enregistrement est intrinsèquement français, dans sa prononciation…»

From the Passions of J. S. Bach to the Masses of Mozart, dramatic and operatic styles invaded church music in the 18th century; while in France, Louis XIV’s love of opera and dance was reflected in the music for his Chapelle Royale. This recording examines some elaborate solo music composed by the most important composer who served the French royal chapel, Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726).

Many Catholic composers created elaborate musical settings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah to frame readings proper to the three final days of Holy Week, leading up to Easter. Lalande created his operatic solo versions of these readings, the “Leçons de Ténèbres,” for celebrations at the Couvent de l’Assomption, a community of nuns on the Rue Saint-Honore in Paris. It was not uncommon for the more musically refined religious communities in Paris to decorate their liturgies with pieces sung by professional musicians. Lalande often wrote these for his gifted daughters to sing, until they died of smallpox in 1711.

This new recording is thoroughly French, down to the pronunciation of the Latin, with its quirky French “u” and nasal vowels, and the informative booklet essay by Thomas Leconte. The soprano on the solo parts, Sophie Karthäuser, is in the same category of clear and limpid sound as Claire Lefilliâtre (who recorded the pieces with Le Poème Harmonique on Alpha) and Isabelle Desrochers (on Naïve), but with a little more grain in the voice to make her tone less waiflike. Sébastien Daucé, who leads his Ensemble Correspondances from the organ, takes nice tempos, keeping this sometimes meditative music, with its ornate melismas on the text’s initial Hebrew letters, from dragging. The musicians give the accompaniment, a single basso continuo line, pleasing variety because of the various combinations of bass viol, harpsichord, organ, lute and theorbo. For example, the group makes a beautifully dark sound on the “In tenebrosis” movement of the Holy Thursday piece, matched excellently with the slight edge in Karthäuser’s voice, evoking the despair of being led into dark places.

The disc is rounded out with Lalande’s celebrated setting of the “Miserere,” published in the same posthumous collection as the “Leçons de Ténèbres.” A beautifully matched chamber choir of women’s voices takes the role of the cultured nunsin the alternate verses of the “Miserere,” as well as three Gregorian antiphons, transcribed from the processional for the Royal Abbey of Chelles.

Charles T. Downey

18 septembre 2015


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