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Music for the Virgin Mary
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE
Prélude du cinquième ton [1'14]
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Antiphon Ave Regina coelorum [3'07]
Motet: Sicut spina rosam [2'26]
Motet: Gaude felix Anna [1'50]
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE
Tierce en taille du deuxième ton [3'22]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS (c.1632-1714)
Antiphon: Gabriel Angelus
Magnificat pour le Port Royal [10'00]
Antiphon Alma redemptoris mater [3'03]
Motet Frigidae noctis umbra totum  -
In Nativitate Domini N(ost)ri Jesu Christi Canticum [11'16]
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE
Noel: Ou s'en vont ces gays bergers? [2'35]
Attrib. Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Antiphon Salve Regina [7'12]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS
Recit de Cromorne du troisième ton [3'24]
Sequence: Stabat Mater pour les réligieuses [9'09]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS
Dialogue à deux choeurs du sixième ton [2'26]
Antiphon: Regina coeli laetare [2'38]
Hymn: Gaudia Virginis Mariae [3'15]
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE
Plein Jeu du huitième ton [2'01]
Alastair Ross (organ)
Concerto delle Donne/Alastair Ross
rec. 27 June-1 July 2005, Notre Dame, Rozay-en-Brie, France. DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD073 [69'00]


This disc presents a sequence of French music regarding different aspects of the Virgin Mary. It was written for female voices - predominantly nuns - during the second half of the 17th century. The majority of the music featured was written by Charpentier and the recording marks the 300th anniversary of his death in 1704.

The music is, I'm ashamed to say, all but unknown to me; apparently Charpentier wrote over one hundred works for women's voices. Here it is beautifully presented, together with works of Lully, Nivers, Lebègue, and interspersed with organ works by the latter pair. It is good to hear these organ works in something of a liturgical, or at least wider musical, context. The London-based keyboard player Alastair Ross plays the remarkable instruments at Rozay, perhaps the best preserved 17th century organ in France, surprisingly little known and restored in 1996 by Yves Cabourdin. The original builder in 1690 is seemingly unknown, or at least the CD booklet doesn't tell us. The virile Pleins Jeux, with its modified 1/5th comma meantone tuning, reminds us of how much Classical French organ building had changed by the time its most famous executants, Dom Bedos, and Francois-Henri Cliquot built their most famous surviving works at Bordeaux and Poitiers respectively. As far as I can tell, Ross uses a second organ, presumably a continuo-organ, for the accompaniment of the singers. If so, this is a shame, as such an instrument would have been completely unknown to Charpentier, and the use of the large organ presents more interesting possibilities in this regard, as well as more key-colour.

The singing on the whole is first-rate; excellent blend, intonation, a very musical feeling for expression, and careful diction, despite some very Anglican-sounding Latin from time to time. The three principal sopranos of the Concerto delle Donne are joined by six further sopranos for the works with alternating soloists and choir. For me, everything is perhaps a little too pretty. Of course, one must remember the situation for which the music was created, but I can't help feeling that the approach lacks a certain variety of affekts suggested by the texts. Likewise Ross's organ playing, while very neat and tidy, lacks a little flexibility in the pulse, or at least a feeling for the inherent rhetoric, so essential to bring this literature off the page.

These are charming performances of charming music. Warmly recommended.

Chris Bragg


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