Couperin: Leçons de ténèbres: XVIII-21, Musique des lumières

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WORKS: Leçons de ténèbres: XVIII-21, Musique des lumières
PERFORMER: Cyrille Gerstenhaber, Stéphanie Révidat (soprano), Marco Horvat (baritone), Rachid Benabdeslam (countertenor), Nabil Khalidi (oud), Elena Andreyev (cello), Elizabeth Geiger (organ)/Jean-Christophe Frisch (flute)
CATALOGUE NO: k617 146


Couperin’s three Leçons de ténèbres – there may once have been more – reach the expressive summit of his vocal music.

The First and Second Leçons are written for a solo soprano, while the Third is scored for two sopranos, though Couperin also commended them to singers in other vocal ranges.

The texts are drawn from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah and are a reflection on the desolation of Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem in the fifth century BC.

Their content afforded composers the opportunity for deep, plaintive utterance on the one hand, and suppliant fervour on the other. This new version differs from all others in that it makes an attempt ‘to bring together Jewish, Christian and Muslim perceptions of the city’.

Couperin’s music, of course, is left intact and uninterrupted but each Leçon is prefaced by modal improvisations with contemporary texts celebrating Jerusalem and its El Aqsa mosque; and the disc concludes with a composition by Gérard Pesson inspired by verses of the Miserere.

But it is Couperin’s music that chiefly concerns us here, and this is very well sung by Stéphanie Révidat and Cyrille Gerstenhaber. They are, respectively, allotted the First and Second Leçons, which they declaim with clarity and assiduous attention to textual content.

But the competition is keen, and my first preferences in the Second Leçon at least, remain with Mieke van der Sluis (Erato) and Isabelle Desrochers (Ligia Digital).


The beautifully shaded nuances, evenly balanced and unhurried singing in the Third Leçon, though, place this newcomer among such front-runners as Véronique Gens and Sandrine Piau (Decca), Sophie Daneman and Patricia Petibon (Erato) and Isabelle Desrochers and Catherine Greuillet (Ligia Digital). A difficult choice. Nicholas Anderson