F Couperin, Lalande

COMPOSERS: F Couperin,Lalande
ALBUM TITLE: F Couperin, Lalande
WORKS: Trois Leçons de Ténèbres, Leçons de Ténèbres
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby, Agnès Mellon (soprano); Charles Medlam (bass viol), Terence Charlston (organ)
For centuries in the Roman Catholic Church, the Tenebrae lessons have been sung during Holy Week on the days leading up to Good Friday. The ritual extinguishing of one candle after each Lesson culminates in the literal and metaphorical darkness – ‘tenebrae’ – of the day of Christ’s death. Couperin’s Leçons de ténèbres are justly celebrated, their intense yet intimate sound-world reflecting both the agony and the ecstasy of these texts. By pitting two high voices against the sonorous hues of organ and bass viol, Couperin underscores the antitheses of darkness and light that lie at the heart of the works. Such chiaroscuro is heightened here as the crystalline purity of Emma Kirkby’s soprano offsets the smoky tones of Agnès Mellon. Eloquent restraint and internalized ardour combine in these sensitively judged accounts.Less well known than the Couperin are Lalande’s hypnotic Tenebrae settings, two of which are included here. Kirkby sings with admirable agility and responsiveness to the nuances of the text while Mellon, despite one or two moments of insecurity, brings into play the voluptuousness and pliancy that has made her one of the finest interpreters of French Baroque music. These are, in short, performances of infinite tenderness, profound affection and mature insight.