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Lucile Richardot: Perpetual Night 

CD Button Seventeenth-century ayres and songs; Ensemble Correspondances, Daucé. English texts, French translations. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902269

Recordings Perpetual Night Cover 918
Critics Choice Button 1015

MOVE OVER, countertenors, tenors, altos, haute-contres and mezzo-sopranos. Lucile Richardot has all your bases covered, with exquisite singing that is most beguiling—ambiguous in gender-timbre and defiantly varied in range. A disc of seventeenth-century English song showcases solo and ensemble music that draws on that country’s strong poetic tradition and the continental influences that shaped language into musical forms. Ensemble Correspondance’s programing conjures up a world of delicious melancholy, celebrating the power of music over life and death.

It’s clear from the start, in Robert Johnson’s hypnotic “Care-charming sleep,” that Richardot knows how to unfold a poem with her voice, and she’s supported throughout by instrumental playing of the utmost delicacy and atmospheric detail, particularly in the imaginative use of continuo—harp, guitar, theorbos, organ, harpsichord and viols. Richardot’s sound—contained, intense, dark and haunting—shimmers and vibrates when she chooses, but her suspended long notes are particularly beautiful and masterfully controlled. Her sound emerges imperceptibly from the string introduction to John Blow’s “Poor Celadon,” yet she’s not afraid to growl or coo, and she can change timbre midsyllable to paint a word or phrase.

William Webb’s masterpiece, “Powerful Morpheus, let thy charms,” showcases Richardot’s control of color and expression, and its concluding couplet, “Lovers in their stol’n delight / Wish it were perpetual night,” provides the disc’s title. The programming presents subtle connections and witty contrasts, and Richardot brings sweet grace to the jaunty rhythms of Coprario’s “Go, happy man” and hurls curses at the faithless lover of Robert Ramsey’s declamatory “Go, perjured man,” set to Robert Herrick’s famous poem. 

The many woeful texts include Walter Raleigh’s ode, set by Ramsey, on the tragic death in 1612 of Prince Henry, next in line to the throne and a great patron of music. This piece is paired with William Lawes’s three-voice elegy on the death of his colleague, organist John Tomkins, which concludes, “Instead of tears shed on his mournful hearse, / Let’s howl sad notes, stol’n from his own pure verse.” Relieving all this woe are the comforting repetitions of Nicholas Lanier’s lilting “No more shall meads,” whose harmonic scheme is based on the Italianate passacaglia pattern, and James Hart’s sweetly wistful “Adieu to the pleasures and follies of love,” from the 1674 operatic reworking of Shakespeare’s Tempest. Richardot details both with easy elegance.

John Banister’s “Give me my lute,” in which Orpheus laments, “Verse and the lute are both asleep,” is followed by Ramsey’s “Howl not, you ghosts and furies,” a theatrical scene depicting Orpheus at the throne of Pluto in Hades. (Bass Nicolas Brooymans snarls splendidly.) Purcell’s “When Orpheus sang” praises the singer’s prowess, and a vocal ensemble compares it to the charming voice of the nymph Phyllis. Several of these songs include other singers, and Blow’s “Sing, sing ye muses,” proclaiming “Music may satisfy the ear,” brings the disc to a fitting conclusion.  —Judith Malafronte



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