Charpentier’s Leçons de ténèbres are among the glories of French Baroque music. They may lack the resonant thrill of his famous Te Deum in D, but his blend of French sensibility with Italianate sense of forward motion, deepened by highly individual harmonic richness, produced some of the finest church music of the day. This gathering of three lessons from the liturgy of Holy Week is augmented by the early Litanies of the Virgin. These settings have an unforced sweetness. The Magnificat that follows is a tribute to the way Charpentier’s effective word setting transcends the limitations of the repetitions of the chaconne bass. A suave reading of an overture for the consecration of a bishop does duty as a prelude to the Leçons.
These performances by Arcangelo of the Litanies and Magnificat are unfailingly expert, with ornamentation gracefully integrated. The performances of the Leçons have a greater focus and intensity than those of the Litanies. The baritone Stéphane Degout and the tenor Samuel Boden strike a fine balance between the meditative aspects and the near-operatic drama of the words from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. A dependable recorded sound copes well with the variety of instrumental timbre and the blend with the vocal soloists.