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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (c.1643-1704)
Judicium Salomonis, H.422 (1702) [40:00]
Motet pour une longue offrande, H.434 (1698-99) [22:47]
Ann Quintans (soprano); Maud Gnidzaz (soprano); Marc Molomot (tenor), Leif Aruhn-Solén (tenor); Paul Agnew (tenor); Carl Ghazarossian (tenor); Marc Mauillon (baritone); Neal Davies (bass); João Fernandes (bass);
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. 5-7 September, 2005, Théâtre de Poissy, France. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0946 359294 23 [63:00]
 


William Christie has a considerable – and very well deserved – reputation as an interpreter of the music of Charpentier. Christie played a major part in the modern revival of interest in Charpentier’s work and has a distinguished series of recordings to his credit, including his Médée (Harmonia Mundi HMX290 1139/41), David et Jonathas (Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1289/90), various collections of choral works (e.g. Harmonia Mundi  HMC90 5130), La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers (Erato 0630-11913-2) and In Nativatem Domini Canticum and Messe de Minuit (Erato 8573-85820-2 - see review).
 
This latest recording brings together two mature works by Charpentier; both were written during the last six years of the composer’s life – in the period between 1698 and 1704 when he was maître de musique at the beautiful Gothic church of the Sainte-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cité in Paris. Every year a special Mass was celebrated in the royal Palais on the Ile de la Cité, attended by all the magistrates of the provincial courts of France. This was usually referred to as la messe Rouge du palais – it was a ‘Red Mass’ because the magistrates wore scarlet robes for the occasion. Both of these compositions were performed at the celebration of la messe Rouge. Both are elaborate works employing substantial forces – soloists, mixed voice chorus, organ and an orchestra of strings and winds.
 
The Judicium Salomonis belongs, in the broadest sense, in the tradition of oratorio established by Giacomo Carissimi, with whom Charpentier studied in Rome at the end of the 1660s. Carissimi, indeed, composed an oratorio – or sacred history, as the French generally called them – on the very same subject. In more than a few places, Charpentier’s treatment reminds one of his very real quality as a composer of opera; there is a powerful theatricality, for example, in his setting of the dispute between the two mothers over the ‘ownership’ of a newborn baby – the story which is familiar from verses 16 to 28 of Chapter 3 of the First Book of Kings. Elsewhere there is some beautiful choral writing, handsomely performed by Les Arts Florissants under the precisely elegant direction of Christie.
 
The Motet pour une longue offrande is particularly striking in terms of Charpentier’s instrumental writing. It employs orchestral forces which include strings, made up of two groups of violins, one group of violas, one group of cellos, two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, organ and continuo. At various points in this lovely example of the grand motet as conceived by Charpentier these forces are subdivided in a variety of groupings. The Motet is in four sections, each introduced by either an orchestral Prélude or a Symphonie, all of them, in their different ways, striking and beautiful.
 
In both works the orchestral and choral contributions are exemplary in their complementary senses of colour and clarity. Christie is a richly experienced master of such music and the experience is evident at every turn. Just one or twice I wondered whether the music might not have been interpreted with a slightly more forceful sense of dramatic intensity, but perhaps that is to put too much weight on the analogies with Charpentier’s secular music. All of the soloists are highly competent and assured in their performances – all of their contributions perfectly adjudged to the tenor of Christie’s interpretations. Without being in any way exceptional, the recorded sound is good – though the acoustic isn’t especially ‘churchy’. Full texts and translations are provided and there is a good booklet essay (to which I am indebted) by H. Wiley Hitchcock, one of the leading scholarly authorities on Charpentier, whose 1982 publication, Les Oeuvres de Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Catalogue Raisonné, provides the modern catalogue numbers for the composer’s work.
 
If you know some of Christie’s other recordings of Charpentier, or have been fortunate enough to attend a concert performance, you will surely want to add this latest CD to your collection. If not, this would be a pretty good place to start.
 
Glyn Pursglove
 

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