United Kingdom Leçons de Ténèbres – Couperin, Charpentier, Lochon, Chein and Delalande: Le Concert Spirituel / Hervé Niquet (director). Wigmore Hall, London 12.4.2017. (CC)
F. Couperin – Première Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint; Seconde Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint; Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint;
Charpentier – Répons: Unus ex discipulis meis, H114; Répons: Eram quasi agnus innocens, H115; Répons: Una hora non potuistis, H116
Lochon –Tuere nos mortales (instrumental)
Chein – Missa Pro Defunctis – Introit (instrumental)
Delalande – Miserere mei Deus Secundum, S27
This concert, part of the Wigmore’s “Early Music and Baroque Series”, heralded a welcome return by Le Concert Spirituel and director Hervé Niquet. Interval-less, this was very much a night of the early bath; musically, it was chock-full of riches. The settings of the Book of Lamentations that are the Leçons de Ténèbres elicited the richest of responses from composers. The Book of Lamentations constitutes an emotional response to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Although sung texts are in Latin, each verse is preceded by a melismatic setting of the relevant Hebrew letter (Aleph, Beth, Ghimel, etc).
Only three out of nine of François Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres survive, and those three formed the backbone of the concert. Niquet set up the stage so that two theorboists, Caroline Delume and Bruno Helstroffer, were on either side of the stage. Niquet himself directed from the continuo organ (Henk Klop Orgelbouw, Garderen, 2007), in front of which was the harpsichord (instrument after seventeenth-century models, played by Elisabeth Geiger). A single viol (Yuka Saïto) completed the line-up of instrumentalists: six sopranos made up the vocal ensemble (Marie-Pierre Wattiez, Nadia Lavoyer, Agathe Boudet, Marie Serri, Aude Fenoy and Alice Glaie).
The initial impression of the opening of the first Couperin piece was loudness; perhaps a touch overloaded in relation to the Wigmore acoustic; a touch more attention to diction might have rounded off the picture, too. Once the ear settled, though, this was a performance of the utmost beauty, the voices superb of tone. Dramatic moments were beautifully done (“Omnes portæ ejus destructæ”); the viol perfect in the melodic gestures of lamentation prior to the all-important line “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum” (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back to the Lord your God).
The interspersing of the Couperin pieces with music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier was inspired. More sighing gestures in Unus ex discipulis meis seemed to link it to Couperin as a blood-brother before an expressive instrumental piece, sans harpsichord, by Jacques-François Lochon (c. 1660-1700).
In the Seconde Leçon, the crispness of delivery at “Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem” (Jerusalem sinned grievously) was remarkable, as was the pleading aspect to the final line (as above, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum”). The recitative feel to Charpentier’s Eram quasi agnus innocens was far more narrational in effect, countered by a palpable dance-like feel to “Venite, mittamus lignum in panem eius” (Come, let us put poison on his bread). The dignified Introit to the Missa Pro Defunctis by Louis Chien (c.1636-1694) was a superbly chosen close to this segment of the evening.
The blossoming counterpoint of Couperin’s Troisième Leçon underscored the idea of a progressive line throughout the concert; the unfolding of the Hebrew letters, perhaps particularly that for “Mem,” was another source of joy, the voices with their hint of a gleam opening out in their continued entreaty to what is really a rather cruel god of “fierce anger,” to quote the text. The darkness of Charpentier’s Una hora non potuistis was entirely apposite and beautifully balanced by Niquet.
Finally, the (relatively) extended Miserere mei Deus Secundum by Michel Delalande (1739-1812). Associated with Chartres, Delalande’s lines steer close to Gregorian chant, contrasting that with joyous, active, even dance-like sections before moving back towards the lachrymose. Revelatory and utterly beautiful, this served as the crowning element of a concert comprised of jewels.