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Marc Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643 - 1704)
Te Deum, H. 146
Dixit Dominus, H. 204
Messe de Minuit pour Noel, H. 9
Jane Archibald (soprano)
Michele de Boer (soprano)
Anne L’Esperance (soprano)
Marion Newman (alto)
Nancy Reynolds (alto)
Colin Ainsworth (tenor)
James McLennan (tenor)
David Nortman (tenor)
Giles Tomkins (tenor)
Esteban Cambre (bass)
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
Recorded 3–6 January 2003, Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, Canada
NAXOS 8.557229 [59.50]

 

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 Charpentier’s intentions.

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.

Robert Hugill

 



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