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Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1636 - 1704)
Marches pour Les Trompettes H547 (1692) [4.18]
Te Deum H146 (1692) [20.42]
Dixit Dominus H202 (c.1688) [11.12]
In honorem Sancti Ludovici Regis Galliae canticum H365 (1693) [15.14]
Domine salvum fac regem H291 (1692)
Messe de Monseur de Mauroy H6 (c. 1691) [65.51]
Leçons de Ténèbres de la semaine sainte de 1692 H135-137 (1692) [42.51]
Cinq Méditations pour le Carême H380-387 (1692) [15.35]
Michel Chapuis (grand orgue)
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Recorded Paris, Eglise Notre Dame du Liban, July 2000 (disc 1); Abbaye de Saint-Michel en Thierache, Aisne, France, June 1999 (disc 2); Paris, Eglise Notre Dame du Liban, March 2001 (disc 3)
GLOSSA GSP 980033 [3 CDs: 55.13 + 65.51 + 58.58]

Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel released their first Charpentier CDs on Naxos. These were very well received, especially as Niquet displayed a penchant for mining some of Charpentier’s lesser known works (such as the Te Deum, H147). The group’s more recent recordings have been on the Spanish label Glossa and they have now issued them as a handsome 3 CD boxed set; albeit with the rather incongruous title of Charpentier!’.

The first disc starts with the well known Te Deum together with the trumpet flourishes which were intended to precede it. This Te Deum, Charpentier’s grandest, was probably written to celebrated the victory of the Marshal of Luxembourg at Steinkerque (Belgium) in 1692; it is one of six surviving Te Deum settings by Charpentier. Niquet accompanies it with three of Charpentier’s motets, one of his Dixit Dominus settings from around 1688, a motet in honour of St. Louis which dates from 1693 and a little motet exhorting God to save the King.

Niquet’s performances of Charpentier with Le Concert Spirituel are generally characterised by their liveliness. Niquet uses quite small forces, which emphasises the chamber nature of much of Charpentier’s writing, even in his grandest works. Niquet’s version of the Te Deum is one of the bounciest that I have heard. Crisp and lively playing from the instrumentalists emphasises the work’s dance-like qualities in a charming way. The faster sections are taken with remarkable speed and dexterity, but never feel rushed and they contrast admirably with the slower movements.

The choir of just thirteen singers is admirably secure and stylish. Soloists are chosen from the choir (and not named in the booklet, which is a little frustrating) and though they sing with great style, some lack a little focus.

For the next disc, the substantial Messe de Monsieur de Mauroy, we get a little more information and the soloists are credited. The mass is a substantial work lasting some 65 minutes and dates from 1691. It is a long, expansive work; austere rather than grand, it uses soli, four-part choir, and a small instrumental group. As was the way at the time, certain movements are supplied by the grande orgue rather than sung and Charpentier specifies for these, such as the Introit and the Offertory, to be improvised at the organists pleasure. This Michel Chapuis does magnificently.

The mass is not a showy work and but its subtle charm is well caught by Niquet’s forces. Niquet’s control of tempo and style is apposite and the work unfolds in a manner which enthrals without seeming to rush nor to over-stay its welcome.

The final disc in the set includes some of Charpentier’s loveliest music, the Leçons de Ténèbres. Over a period of 20 years Charpentier composed over thirty Leçons de Tenebres but much of this music is lost. The texts, drawn mainly from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, are interspersed with melismatic settings of the Hebrew letters. A particular style of setting these lessons developed in France at the period, developed by Lambert, Charpentier and Couperin.

Le Concert Spirituel perform the surviving part, the Third Lesson, from the cycle of lessons written in 1692. The six singers (two counter-tenors, two tenors and two basses) make a wonderful, rich sound and create a very relaxed feel to the pieces. The solos are not always performed to perfection, but the whole performance has a natural feel, all the performers are well into the style.

The Leçons de Ténèbres are accompanied by five meditations for Holy Week. They were written somewhere between 1680 and 1690 and their exact function is unclear. They could be a single work, or they could have been used to provide meditations on sermons, in the way of Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words’. Whatever their original use, they are beautiful and haunting works and their atmosphere is aptly caught by Niquet and his team. Whilst you might already have the Tenebrae pieces in your collection, this quintet of works is well worth hearing.

These 3 CDs mix Charpentier’s better known pieces with some of his works which deserve to be better known. I can highly recommend these recordings and if you want to fill in some gaps by acquiring the Mass and the Meditations, then I can highly recommend the performances of the Te Deum and the Tenebrae Lessons as well. I have only one small complaint. The beautifully laid out booklet contains an extended essay of such floweriness that it is difficult to extract concrete information from it; and if you want texts then you will have to go on-line and download them from Glossa’s web pages.

Robert Hugill

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