Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts sing works by Brossard and F Couperin

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COMPOSERS: Brossard,F Couperin
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Brossard * F Couperin
WORKS: Brossard: Stabat Mater; Trio Sonatas; F Couperin: Trois Leçons de Ténèbres
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe, Elizabeth Watts (soprano); La Nuova Musica/David Bates (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU807699 (hybrid CD/SACD)  

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Named after the Holy Week service of Tenebrae and traditionally performed in sombre candlelight to symbolise the darkness of Christ’s Passion, Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres are among the most intimate and expressive of all French Baroque sacred works, memorable for their flickering vocal lines and yearning continuo accompaniment.

This recording enters a competitive field, with accounts that range from Emma Kirkby and Judith Nelson’s 1991 classic (on L’Oiseau-Lyre), distinguished by its candid purity of sound, to Sophie Daneman and Patricia Petibon’s sensuous account with Les Arts Florissants (on Erato), not to mention various versions for countertenors and hautcontres.

Soprano Lucy Crowe here offers an intense and dramatic reading of the first Leçon, painting the words of the Lamentations of Jeremiah with an array of vocal shades and timbres. Elizabeth Watts takes centre stage in the second setting – her voice plummy and voluptuous, though its vibrato often interferes with the clarity of line and seems unnecessary in such intricate and melismatic writing. The two join in an impassioned and operatically-inspired performance of the final Leçon – a far cry from the chaste soundworld often associated with these works.

In addition to the Couperin are three less familiar works by his contemporary Sébastien de Brossard: two trio sonatas lighten the penitential mood of the disc with Italianate brio – both works stylishly realised by the instrumentalists of La Nuova Musica – while the performing forces are expanded for Brossard’s highly-charged setting of the Stabat Mater, its grief-filled text delivered with raw and plangent expressivity.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti