Charpentier: Leçons de Ténèbres – Office du Vendredi Saint

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COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Leçons de Ténèbres – Office du Vendredi Saint
PERFORMER: Agnès Mellon, Gérard Lesne, Ian Honeyman, Jacques Bona; Il Seminario Musicale
CATALOGUE NO: VC 7 59295 2 DDD
Marc-Antoine Charpentier is fast becoming everyone’s favourite mid-Baroque French composer. Much of his growing popularity has been based on recordings of his numerous settings of the Leçons de Ténèbres – intimate and highly expressive treatments of the famous Holy Week texts with moments of heart-stopping harmonic invention. The colouring is usually dark, but Charpentier’s genius for melody and harmony means that interest never flags.

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This disc from Il Seminario Musicale is a splendidly ingenious manner of presenting a coherent sequence of separate pieces. The Charpentier expert Jean Lionnet has mixed plainsong from contemporary sources with the music of the master to produce a convincing stab at a liturgical reconstruction. The result has a sombre dignity which draws the listener in – listening in a darkened room will do wonders for atmosphere. The recorded ambience is a touch over-reverberant for such intimate music, but the performers rarely disappoint. Agnès Mellon and Gérard Lesne are especially memorable, with a perfect blend of devotion and excitement in their singing. Pitch occasionally droops in ensemble sections, but this should not put off anyone interested in this repertoire. Jan Smaczny