François Couperin's L'Apothéose de Lully and L'Apothéose de Corelli are unique programmatic works, from late in the composer's career, in which he gave concrete form to the fusion of French and Italian influences that he had explored over much of his career. They are sometimes paired, but to aim at the generalist Couperin buyer with a work of an entirely different sort, as the English early music group Arcangelo and director/keyboardist Jonathan Cohen do here, is also a valid approach, and the music is beautifully executed. The two works, comprising little instrumental pieces preceded by a title, depict the ascent of their respective composer subjects to the heights of Parnassus. The titles are not always read aloud, as they are here, but this is preferable (and translations into English might have been helpful). L'Apothéose de Lully is heard here. Its instrumental parts can be realized in various ways; Arcangelo uses only two violins and continuo, but the continuo is flexible, with viola da gamba, lute, and harpsichord. The lute and harpsichord sound a bit unusual when played together, but when Thomas Dunford's lute steps out as a solo accompanimental instrument (sample the "Enlévement de Lulli au Parnasse"), the effect meshes well with the intimate quality of Cohen's approach as a whole. The work is paired here with the Leçons de Ténèbres or Tenebrae Lessons, settings for one or two singers, with a continuo of lute, viola da gamba, and organ, of the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah that combine text with vocal melismas that challenge the performer yet don't disturb the basic mood of piety and simplicity. They are among the most powerful in the long tradition of settings of this text, and the mood of sustained, transcendent calm achieved here by Cohen and sopranos Katherine Watson and Anna Dennis is luxurious. An excellent release for anyone interested in Couperin's vocal music and instrumental ensemble music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|L'Apothéose de Lully|
|Leçons de Ténèbres|