Tenebrae Lessons

Michel-Richard de Lalande


with Sophie Karthäuser


Although he is best known for his grands motets, Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) did not disdain smaller forms. So much may be seen from the three Leçons de Ténèbres and the Miserere for solo voice and continuo for the Offices of Holy Week. Scored for small forces that respected the guidelines of sobriety and restraint laid down by the Church during Holy Week, the Leçons de Ténèbres blended the very special art of French ‘beau chant’, at once declamatory and highly ornate, with the Gregorian heritage of the tonus lamentationum, a very simple reciting tone that was used to sing the Lamentations of Jeremiah in plainchant on the three days preceding Easter.

True to the aesthetic of the Leçons de Ténèbres, Lalande succeeded in exploiting this art of ambiguity in his small corpus for Holy Week, while at the same time deviating somewhat from tradition. In his Miserere, he does not hesitate to circumvent the customary alternatim (between odd and even verses) by grouping certain verses in pairs in order to take full advantage of the rich poetic and emotional potential of Psalm 50. In the Leçons, his verses reveal a more personal rhetorical interpretation.

Whereas most of his contemporaries favour continuous recitation of the Lamentations, Lalande modulates the discourse by alternating between declamatory passages, in recitative style, and more clearly delimited sections. To this structural variety one may add the utilisation of contrasting affects, emphasised by varied tempo and expression marks. The way of handling the moments of prayer and meditation also seems to be very important for him. To guide his audience of penitents and orientate their reflection, Lalande frequently repeats passages of text or music, where he conveys the repentant sinner’s sense of urgency by interrupting the course of the narration with urgent imploration. But it is perhaps in the call to return to the Lord that concludes each Leçon, each time based on the same principle of an ornate melody, linear but punctuated by expressive intervals, unfolding over a chromatic bass line, that one can most clearly feel such insistence, and the importance of memory, in Lalande’s musical setting.

Release Harmonia Mundi April 2015:
Diapason d’or de l’année 2015, Choc de Classica, ffff Télérama, Best recording of the Year 2015 De Standaard, …


Michel-Richard de Lalande
Tristis est anima mea
IIIe Leçon pour le mercredy
Ecce vidimus eum
IIIe Leçon pour le jeudy
Vinea mea electa
IIIe Leçon pour le vendredy
Plange quasi virgo
Cantique sur le bonheur des Justes et le malheur des Réprouvez
O Mors
Miserere à voix seule

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