Hyperion monthly sampler – December 2013
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No 1. Conclusion of Première Leçon: Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum
No 1: Première Leçon Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae
No 2: Deuxième Leçon Vau. Et egressus est a filia Sion
No 3: Troisième Leçon Jod. Manum suam misit hostis
Couperin’s Leçons are intensely personal, depicting Jeremiah’s bitter anguish in settings that are quite unique. The sections of declamatory ‘récitatif’ and arioso are descendents of the ‘tragédie lyrique’, but Couperin also adheres to tradition in setting the ‘incipits’ in plainsong formula, and in setting the Hebrew letters of the alphabet that punctuate the text as melismas. The contrast of these flowing sections with the main text, amongst which the melismas sound almost nonchalant, is a deliberate act on Couperin’s part: the letters act as a poignant foil to the overt expressiveness of Jeremiah’s lament. Each Leçon ends with Jeremiah’s words to the people of the Holy City, ‘Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’. The music has, within its own self-imposed limits, an intensity and power rarely found in baroque church music.
The first two Leçons are for solo voice: the third is a duet. The music was originally scored for two soprano voices but, following Couperin’s suggestion that ‘all other types of voices may sing them’ (and instructing the accompanying players to transpose), the editions used in this recording transpose the music down a fifth.
from notes by Robert King © 1991