Having spent a period of study in Rome with
the famous Italian composer Giacomo Carissimi, Charpentier
was influenced by the
polyphonic choral style. This style was in contrast with
the French practice of that time, the stile moderno, the
17th-century modern solo style. As such, the Messe à 4
chœurs et 4 orchestres could only stand as an
exception to the rule due
to its massiveness of counterpoint lines. A contemporary
of Lalande and Lully,
Charpentier never enjoyed royal patronage. Still his compositions
captured the grandeur of French court music and have a distinctive,
yet personal style. The king’s son, the Dauphin, granted
him a pension in 1683 in recognition to his services to music.
The Messe à 4
chœurs et 4 orchestres employs a wealth of musicians
and also the organ at six points in the liturgy. This follows
the traditional practice of the period. In the large movements
of Gloria and Credo the alternation between ‘petit
choeur’ - few voices - and ‘grand choeur’ – full - is impressively
exploited. Beautiful dialogue between voices and choirs,
intriguing dissonances, refined melodies, rhythmic vitality
and rhythmic dance-like patterns, are some of the elements
deployed in this fascinating work.
two Livres d’orgues were published in 1689 and 1700.
They had eight suites each, covering eight church modes and ‘contained
a table of ornaments, a list of registrations to facilitate “good
understanding of how to combine the stops” and a Traité abrégé de
l’accompagnement.’ The decision by the organist Odile
Bailleux to insert into the Messe, pieces by Boyvin
and even four more than the ones Charpentier originally requested,
seems to create the opposite result than the one the organist
intended. Too many organ pieces in between Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus
Dei, seem unnecessary with the excuse of ‘punctuation -
a breathing space’. The reason is that Charpentier had already
inserted a lot of “punctuation - a breathing space”s.
These can be found at points where there is alteration of petit
and grand choeur and also where the rhythmic patterns and motifs
change character and mood. Indisputably Charpentier knew how
to create a poetic climate and sustain it. This music does
not need any help!
booklet offers only basic information - in three languages
- about the composers and the music being performed. It has
some misprints e.g. Boyvin’s exact dates. The organ’s stop-list
is missing which is a significant omission for any historic
instrument being recorded. Another omission is that there are
no biographical notes about the performers and the ensembles.
vocal/ensemble performances are not of the highest standard.
The blend of the vocal line is good even though much more care
should have been given to the balance between choirs and voices.
The phrasing and breathing seem to have problems and these
cause some words to be pronounced with extra consonants, e.g. ‘essst’ between
different voices. On then other hand ensemble is good with
all voices finishing together. The large choral forces sound
uninspired and emotion seems in short supply despite the highly
emotional text. The organ performances follow the same route.
They sound quite rushed - especially tracks 7-16 - with all
the fast passages played … just fast instead of rhetorically.
The ornaments do not engage as they are predictable instead
of catching the attention. The last vocal piece is followed
after some seconds pause by canned applause! A rotten cherry
in the pie!
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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