The sacred works on this album will seem unfamiliar indeed to those who know François Couperin through his ornate, allusive keyboard music. The mood is intimate and deeply serious, and the music is written in a French sacred style with its roots in the 17th century, with semi-declamatory solo lines over a small continuo group here realized by theorbo, bass viol, and a gorgeous small organ. Most striking are the Trois Leçons de Ténèbres, part of a set of Lamentations for Easter week whose other components have been lost (or never existed). They provide brutal challenges for soprano Carolyn Sampson and mezzo soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, who must intone long melismas on the vowels of the Hebrew letters that begin each lamentation. They not only make it through, they give the music its proper incantatory quality. Sampson in particular forces the listener's attention onto the text with long straight-on-pitch passages, blooming into vibrato at the very last minute. The instrumental pieces by Marin Marais and the mysterious Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le fils provide an effective counterpoint for the rather difficult Lamentations, appearing in an unfamiliar context (usually they are programmed with other instrumental pieces). Toward the end of the program are two broader pieces by Couperin for the same forces, a Motet for Easter Day and a Magnificat. These are without exception compelling performances of difficult, unfamiliar music, and the engineering team, working in St. Andrew's Church in the British town of Toddington (the Gloucestershire Toddington), backs these veteran but seemingly revivified musicians to the hilt. A major accomplishment for the new Vivat label.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Motet pour le jour de Pâques|
|Magnificat anima mea|