Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Leçons de ténèbres – Les Talens Lyriques

Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Leçons de ténèbres [selection]

Les Talens Lyriques:
Erika Escribá-Astaburuaga & Isabelle Poulenard (sopranos), Anders Dahlin (tenor) and Kaori Uemura (viola da gamba)
Christophe Rousset (director, organ & harpsichord)

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 11 April, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Christophe Rousset. ©Eric LarrayadieuThe quiet repose of Easter Saturday was perfect timing for an airing of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s seldom heard yet deeply affecting “Leçons de ténèbres”. Christophe Rousset and his suave band of baroque-music specialists, Les Talens Lyriques, chose to perform a selection of Lessons and Responsaries used during Holy Week of 1680 by nuns at the Abbaye-aux-Bois convent in Paris.

Played and sung by five performers, the music exuded a power and haunting quality that is seldom matched by the more familiar theatrical and courtly music of Charpentier’s contemporaries. The expert and intense performances by Les Talens Lyriques’ also revealed an inner sophistication and complexity to these works, highlighting their Italian as well as their purely French influences.

Christophe Rousset guided performers and audience alike through the spiritual journey from darkness into light. He moved seamlessly between organ and harpsichord accompaniments, directing his band with just the slightest nod or look. Because each player is so fully immersed in the music, and clearly knows their place within it, there was no need for particularly bold or assertive control.Rousset received consistently strong backing on bass continuo from Kaori Uemura, who doggedly worked her way through each of the nine chosen pieces on a very fine-looking viola da gamba.

The three solo singers were outstanding. Anders Dahlin reached and sustained the high tenor notes (written specifically for one of the nuns at the Abbaye-aux-Bois) with ease. His voice also had a yearning, expressive quality that perfectly matched the texts – drawn from the Old Testament Book of Lamentations. The two sopranos expertly handled their very demanding roles. They sang with real passion and conviction, moving between solo and ensemble lines with dexterity. Very occasionally their voices were a little too well matched, and the music might have benefited from more tonal variety between them. Of the two, Isabelle Poulenard possibly had the edge in terms of warmth, clarity and purity of tone. Her passionate solo in the final ‘Cinquième Répons’ was outstanding.

This was a hugely enjoyable concert, displaying the very best of the French baroque tradition.

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