Another Step to Finishing a Rediscovery

Matthias Range
jueves, 3 de julio de 2008
Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Messe & Te Deum à huit voix [H3 and H145]. Le Concert Spirituel; Hervé Niquet. Producer: Dominique Daigremont; engineer: Manuel Mohino. One CD, 79’53’’ minutes, recorded in September 2005, Église Notre Dame du Liban (Paris), Glossa Music GCDSA 921611
0,000158 Marc-Antoine Charpentier is one of those never really forgotten composers who have received increased attention by scholars, performers and concert-goers over the last ten to fifteen years. Today, a good number of his works are available in good recordings. However, the present recording fits well into the discography, presenting two pieces that have not previously been committed to disc. As stated in the booklet, the editions used for this production were prepared by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (the Mass) and the performing group, the Concert Spirituel (the Te Deum) themselves. Charpentier is certainly best known for his grand ceremonial style with trumpets and timpani (as in his famous Te Deum H. 146), or the sombre tone of his funeral music for Marie Thérèse, the Sunking Louis XIV’s wife.

The pieces recorded here show us a different side of the composer. They are not compositions for an elaborate court ceremony, but instead were written for the Jesuits at the church Saint-Louis in Paris. Charpentier had spent about five years in Italy, and on his return he became a regular contributor to the Jesuits’ services, from 1670 until about a decade later.

In the liner notes accompanying the present CD, Thomas Leconte explains how Charpentier incorporated his experience with Italian music into his compositions from this time onwards. Overall, Leconte’s notes (in French with English and German translations) are very well written and interesting; they are in fact a thoroughly researched little essay on the pieces recorded here as well as on the Jesuits under Louis XIV at the time in general. The notes include full references, which is something (all too) rare for liner notes.

In accordance with their different purpose, the pieces on this CD have a less grand instrumentation than Charpentier’s compositions for state or court occasions; and yet Leconte calls the Mass for eight voices ‘unquestionably…the most lavish’ of all Charpentier’s compositions – ‘after the Mass for four choirs perhaps’ as he restricts himself. This lavishness lies in the complexity of the composition, which builds on inner coherence and rich harmonies rather than on grand majestic sounds as in other pieces. After all, it appears that the eight part Mass and Te Deum contain ‘more music’ than any of Charpentier’s representative pieces of church music.

Recordings of French Baroque music by other conductors, such as Minkowski or Jacobs, are prone to being overly mannered, and the desire to be different is often all too apparent. Hervé Niquet, however, is refreshingly different: he does not make a big thing about trying to ‘sound French’ – he just does, and very naturally, too. His whole approach breathes the air of normality, and everything seems just in the right place: for instance, elaborate ornamentation and dotted rhythms are not used to underline the French character of the music, rather they are added in a most convincing way; indeed, they so match the performance that one would not actually realise they are there. Choir and orchestra perform together very well, and even in the full eight-part sections the singing is clear and distinct.

The soloists are all strong in their performances. Unfortunately though it is not always possible to say who is singing when. The full listing of the performers gives four choirs: ‘Petit Chœur’ I and II with one singer per part each, and then ‘Chœur’ I and II with two singers per part each. But the full listing of the tracks does not indicate when which choirs are singing, and the liner notes state simply that the Te Deum is set for ‘two choirs of voices and instruments’. Thus it is not possible to appreciate separate performers, which is especially curious when they are specifically listed on the CD back cover.

The CDs of the Glossa label come in a nicely designed, hard paper box. A drawback, however, is the fact that the booklet is fixed at the inside of the front cover: this makes the reading slightly inconvenient (always having the whole box in the way). With other CDs by the same label, the booklet is fixed inside the back cover which makes handling much easier, indeed creating a proper little book with hard covers. One may wonder if the booklet in this CD was intended for the other side of the cover. However, a welcome find is on page 43, where a reproduction of the recently discovered watercolour portrait of Charpentier, now in the University Library in Frankfurt am Main (Germany), can be found.

All in all this is a CD that is highly recommended for all who are seeking to enlarge their knowledge of French Baroque music in general; and in particular it is a further step in finishing the rediscovery of the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
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