Charpentier: Leçons de ténèbres de la semaine sainte de 1692; Cinq méditations pour le Carême

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COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Leçons de ténèbres de la semaine sainte de 1692; Cinq méditations pour le Carême
PERFORMER: Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Almost all the music performed on these separately available discs is, or has been, available in competing versions. But Le Concert Spirituel under Hervé Niquet’s experienced direction achieves an expressive intensity which overshadows its rivals. Charpentier wrote over 30 Tenebrae for the last three days of Holy Week and their texts, drawn from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, inspired the composer to extraordinary heights of anguished declamation. Much of the music is a skilful blend of French court air with Italian monodic lamentazioni, which he had encountered during his three years in Rome as Carissimi’s pupil. The five Lenten (Carême) Meditations on the path to Christ’s Crucifixion belong to a group of ten such pieces which are hardly less striking than the Tenebrae for their expressive ardour. If the performances are not always refined, they lack nothing in respect of fervent and idiomatic declamation.


The Mass for M de Mauroy, one of 11 such pieces by Charpentier, is among the finest of them. The identity of M de Mauroy has not been established but he deserves a pat on the back either for commissioning, or just being associated with a work of such beauty and eloquence – the Gloria and Credo are outstandingly affecting. Niquet, his voices and his ensemble of woodwind and strings reveal its strengths with full-blooded emotional responses and a convincing stylistic sense. Nicholas Anderson