This latest Hyperion release from Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo is of settings by Marc-Antoine Charpentier whose voluminous sacred works first drew favourable attention through William Christie and Les Arts Florissants.
In these glowing accounts Cohen lovingly reveals Charpentier’s fusion of French sensibility and Italian passion, the music’s rarefied spirituality finding natural expression in Arcangelo’s one-to-a-part vocal and instrumental ensemble. There’s a real sense of dedication, even ardour, behind these performances that hone the music’s dramatic intensity and harmonic expressivity. With over fifty settings of texts associated with the Office of Tenebrae, Charpentier was one of numerous French composers during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries drawn to these Holy Week 'lessons'. While François Couperin’s collection of Leçons de ténèbres may be better known, these individually-scored settings by Charpentier are no-less fervent or devotional in spirit.
Stéphane Degout gives smooth, rich-grained accounts in the First and Third Lessons (supported by recorders and strings, then flutes and strings), and brings expressive depth and tenderness to the sufferings of Jerusalem and burdens of sin outlined in the texts. Degout’s colouring may be limited, but there’s plenty to enjoy from his sense of line and ornamentations and the ever-sensitive accompaniments.
Samuel Boden’s yielding tenor wraps itself around the more gratifying vocal lines of the Second Lesson as if he was born to them. It’s a haute-contre part with a soaring lyricism that he takes in his stride. Boden is joined by Thomas Walker and Ashley Riches for the Magnificat, demonstrating much ingenuity in its distribution of vocal and instrumental material (along with some colourful word-painting) above a four-note ground bass. Its Purcellian flavour carries over into an infectious rendition of the Ouverture pour le sacre d’un évêque, a celebratory piece written for the consecration of a bishop.
For the six-voice Litanies de la vierge, the TTB trio is augmented by Zoё Brookshaw, Anna Dennis and Anna Harvey. It is much influenced by Giacomo Carissimi, with whom the composer worked in the 1660s, and one in which Charpentier himself would have sung. The text is neatly shared between alternating upper and lower voices, combining to dramatic effect to glorify the Virgin Mary—and here sung with nimble acuity in the dancing rhythms and heartfelt expression in the rich harmonies, a sumptuous account not so extreme as Le Concert Spirituel, nor as characterful as Les Arts Florissants, but matching the sensuality of Ensemble Correspondances.
This is a beautifully recorded issue which highlights a wealth of vocal and instrumental detail, and the comprehensive booklet includes texts and translations.