Couperin: Leçons de ténèbres

CD cover Couperin Leçons de ténèbres Versailles

Sophie Junker, Florie Valiquette, Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal, Stéphane Fuget
53:03
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS034

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I usually end with a few comments on the booklet of the releases I review for EMR, but here I’m going to start with it. It’s odd! The essays (in French, English, and German) are a very general survey of ornamentation practice in France and an equally all-purpose biography of Couperin which devotes just half a dozen lines to the recorded repertoire. And the Lalande Cantique, the second-longest item in the programme, is not mentioned anywhere. At least the sung texts are translated into all the languages used elsewhere.

I’m sure that EMR readers will be aware of this brilliant music, and the equally brilliant recording by Emma Kirkby and colleagues. For me, that remains the benchmark for its purity of line and overall ability to let Couperin’s music speak to us directly. Here, I find I am over-aware of the performers: the singers just try too hard, and this leads to the upper voice dominating the duet sections. Also distracting are the changes of continuo sonority within a piece. Couperin does suggest both harpsichord and organ as possibilities but I doubt that he imagined this alternation.

It was brave of the ladies to programme the Easter motet Victoria as Emma and co. did. I’m afraid they don’t really come up to the mark, with a lack of clarity in the coloratura sections and some very clipped phrasing. And the balance in the duet sections is not good – again the higher voice dominates.

Overall, therefore, this has to go down as a disappointing release from a source that usually offers more joys.

David Hansell