M Lambert Leçons de ténèbres
Marc Mauillon (baritone), Myriam Rignol (viola da gamba), Thibault Roussel (theorbo), Marouan Mankar-Bennis (harpsichord, organ)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902363-64 104:30 mins (2 discs)
Michel Lambert was a key figure in French music in the 17th century. A noted singer and teacher, his music was vital in establishing the style of French opera developed by his son-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Lully. He was well known for his secular music, but his two sets of the Lamentations of Jeremiah – the Leçons de ténèbres of Holy Week – are a fascinating extension of his often serious style of vocal writing. As with François Couperin and Charpentier’s better known settings, the musical backbone of Lambert’s Leçons is Gregorian chant, often richly harmonised and elaborately ornamented for the singer. The performers on this pioneering recording have gone to considerable lengths to match up the complex vocal line with the accompaniment, and the results are musically very convincing. Alongside the steady tread of the Leçons there are instrumental interludes, all expressively played. In fact, more of these would have been welcome to leaven the total immersion experience this recording offers. The decision to have a single voice performing when three singers were originally involved might seem for some a step too far toward consistent austerity. Marc Mauillon has great vocal dexterity and deals with the almost ceaseless ornamental demands of Lambert’s setting fearlessly, but in the end sounds rather too monochrome. With the advantage of a clear recording, this is a faithful rendition of Lambert’s original and within a narrow range effective and expressive, but overall it leaves one longing for the greater sensuality of Couperin’s setting of the same words.