COMPOSERS: Clérambault; Couperin
WORKS: Clérambault: Miserere à trois voix; Couperin: Première leçon pour le Mercredi; Deuxième leçon pour le Mercredi; Troisième leçon pour le Mercredi
PERFORMER: Hasnaa Bennani, Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano), Isabelle Druet (mezzo); Le Poème Harmonique
CATALOGUE NO: ALPHA 957
One of the paradoxes of the French Baroque is the sheer sensuousness of its penitential music. Settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah include some of the most harmonically and melodically ravishing music – in the case of Charpentier and François Couperin – written in the period, often outstripping the efforts of contemporary opera composers until Rameau. Composed in the early 1710s, Couperin’s Holy Week settings are among the loveliest in his output: poised, yet passionate, they alternate between languorous melodic writing and declamation that often has the intensity of personally-delivered sermon.
These performances, in a nicely-captured resonant acoustic, are engaging and expertly ornamented. Hasnaa Bennani is particularly affecting in the first of Couperin’s Lessons for the Wednesday of Holy Week with the modestly-framed accompaniment – viola da gamba, organ, harpsichord and lute – ever alert to the expressive needs of the singers. The Miserere, another Holy Week work, by Couperin’s near–contemporary Clérambault, mostly famed for his Italian-influenced cantatas and a volume of fine keyboard music, is as a whole rather less engaging. While never less than beautiful, the setting’s constant play with three high-pitched voices occasionally leads to a feeling of sensual overload, notwithstanding some superb singing and a strong sense of ensemble.