Naxos has done pretty
well by Charpentier’s sacred works;
not only have Hervé Niquet’s
group, Concert Spirituel, recorded a
number, but following on from their
discs of Noels and Christmas motets
the Canadian based Aradia Ensemble have
recorded this disc which includes two
of Charpentier’s most famous works.
The Te Deum H. 146,
more famous perhaps for the television
associations of its prelude, is actually
one of four surviving settings. Le Concert
Spirtuel have already recorded one of
these lesser known ones for Naxos, so
it is perhaps churlish of me to wish
that the Aradia ensemble had been similarly
adventurous. Still, the Te Deum H. 146
is a wonderfully confident example of
Charpentier’s style. opulently scored
for choir, eight soloists, trumpets,
flutes, oboes, bassoons, strings and
drums; performances are always welcome.
Six versions of the
Vespers Psalm ‘Dixit Dominus’ survive.
Aradia have chosen to record a relatively
simple option, rather than one of the
grander ones which were written for
his patroness Mlle. de Guise. This smaller
setting is scored for just chorus, soloists,
strings and continuo.
The ‘Messe de Minuit’
is Charpentier’s second most famous
work after the ‘Te Deum’. In this charming
work, scored for chorus, soloists, flutes,
strings and continuo, Charpentier makes
use of contemporary Noels (popular carols)
which are incorporated into the melodic
structure of the mass.
From the opening notes
of the ‘Te Deum’, the virtues of this
performance are apparent; a lively tempo,
crisp, stylish playing with the chorus
singing distinct good French pronunciation
of the Latin. The instrumental ensemble
is responsive to the rhythmic nature
of the music and play in a very lively
fashion. Aradia are a smallish group
consisting of 16 singers and ensemble
of 22, with the soloists drawn from
the choir. The choir makes a fine, focused
but robust sound. They sing Charpentier’s
music with style but are not afraid
to be quite vigorous; this is definitely
period performance with a bit of blood.
A slight drawback is that the choir
occasionally lacks the ultimate degree
of refinement; it is a small point but
admirers of William Christie’s spun
sugar approach should beware.
The booklet lists ten
soloists but it is not always clear
who is singing when, which is a shame.
The individual soloists display the
same virtues as the choir, but one or
two of them seem a little taxed by the
tessitura of their parts. Some of the
soprano soloists display hints of strain.
The same is true of the two tenors,
who must cope with Charpentier’s high
tenor parts; they tend to coarsen the
tone a little in the upper registers
and the ornamentation rather suffers.
For the ‘Messe de Minuit’
the ensemble’s director Kevin Mallon
has done some re-arrangement. Charpentier
requests that the organ plays arrangements
of some of the noels. In this case,
the noels are sung rather than being
played instrumentally. One of them,
Une jeune pucelle, being sung
in a version taught to the Huron Indians
in the 17th century; this
being sung in the Huron language and
the others in French. These changes
mainly affect the Kyrie, but the result
is a rather oddly polyglot performance.
The final result is, admittedly, quite
charming but I think I would rather
have had something a little closer to
In addition to the
lack of information about which soloists
sing what, this disc has another annoying
feature – the tracking. The whole of
the Te Deum is included in one 22 minute
track. Similarly ‘Dixit Dominus’ and
the individual movements of the mass
are all confined to one track each.
Charpentier often divides his movements
in multi-part sections so it would have
surely been useful to have subdivided
the movements further.
This is not quite an
ideal version of these works. But the
performances on the disc have ample
in them to reward the listener. Kevin
Mallon and his group manage to give
us a refreshing take on what could become
rather hackneyed music.