Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (c.1645-1704)
Te Deum - Motets pour le roy Louis
Te Deum in D (H 146) [22:10]
In honorem Sancti Ludovici Regis Galliae Canticum (H 365) [14:35]
In honorem Sancti Ludovici Regis Galliae (H 418) [11:29]
Psalmus David 75us post septuagesimum: Notus in Judea Deus (H 206) [13:25]
Salomé Haller, Brigitte Chevigné (soprano), François-Nicolas Geslot (hautecontre), Stephan Van Dyck (tenor), Arnaud Marzorati (bass)
Maîtrise de Bretagne, Le Parlement de Musique/Martin Gester
rec. June 2000, Lycée de l'Assomption, Rennes, France. DDD
NAÏVE OP 30463 [61:43]

It is one of the ironies of music history that Marc-Antoine Charpentier never held formal ties to the royal court of France. Nevertheless he became most famous for this Te Deum in D, which was written in celebration of a military victory by King Louis XIV. This piece which has been recorded frequently is also performed here. The other three compositions on this disc are in one way or another also connected to Louis XIV.

It is not quite certain for which event the Te Deum was written, but it seems likely it was the victory at Steinkerque in August 1692; François Couperin refers to this event in his Sonata La Steinkerque. The choice of the key of D major is highly appropriate: the German theorist Johann Mattheson links this key to 'military things'. The prélude en rondeau which opens the piece is an evergreen which everyone knows from Eurovision broadcasts. It is here played in a dotted rhythm, with notes inégales as the French term it. This Te Deum may reflect the pomp and circumstance which one expects from such a composition. There is also a close connection between text and music. The triple "Sanctus" causes the use of three solo voices and so does the reference to the Trinity in the fifth section (Te per orbem terrarum). "Pleni sunt coeli" (Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory) is obviously set for the tutti. The intimate prayer "Te ergo quaesumus" (We therefore pray Thee) is given to a solo soprano.

The second and third items of the programme have almost identical titles but are very different in character. In them three elements come together: history, monarchy and religion. The 'Sanctus Ludovicus' or Saint Louis the titles refer to was a saint who took part in the last crusade which began in 1267. His army was hit by the plague, and in 1270 he died with many of his men. In the early 17th century he was venerated as the protector of the monarchy, and since then all French kings bore the name of Louis. In 1693 Louis XIV founded the royal and military order of Saint-Louis, and 25 August was chosen for the annual celebration. But the Order of the Jesuits also chose Louis as their protector, and the two pieces in honour of the saint recorded here were written when Charpentier was master of music in the church of the Societas Jesu.

The two settings have different texts and scorings. The first (H 365) is for 5 solo voices, 4-part choir and an orchestra of wind and strings. It begins with a prelude with the indication guay. The first half has a war-like character: "A day of trumpeting and strife, a day of ire and fury, said the Lord" - the text of the first section. "I shall pour out my wrath", "Gird your sword", "Your arrows are the sharp arrows of the mighty one" are the beginnings of the next sections. This is reflected by the music, with sharp, stinging rhythms. The second half is very different: it is a prayer, which begins with the words "O Lord, grant that I may fight bravely so that I may win". The next section says: "You have been bountiful towards your servant, o Lord". The piece ends with a tribute to the king: "Come hither, o faithful peoples, and see the holy king" and "Chant to our king, sing and speak joyfully". The praying sections are mainly given to solo voices, the last sections to the tutti.

The second setting is for solo voices with an ensemble of two recorders, strings and basso continuo. The intimate prelude sets the tone for the whole piece. The first section begins with the words "Louis languished amidst the corpses of his men, and the hand of the Lord had touched him", a reference to the pitiful state of Saint Louis' army at the crusade. This is sung by the hautecontre; there is an eloquent coloratura on the word "suspirabat" (sighed). Then follows a prayer of a man who knows he is going to die: "If I have found pleasure in your eyes, I beseech you, o Lord, let your fury cease". This is scored for tenor solo, with recorders and basso continuo. The text then turns to God announcing that his wish is fulfilled and that "a son shall be born to you according to my heart" who shall destroy his enemies and shall fight for the glory of his name. It is easy to imagine who this text refers to.

The disc ends with a setting of Psalm 75 (76), the second Charpentier as wrote. In many ways it is a reworking of the previous setting. It is thought to have been written on the occasion of another military victory of Louis XIV. It is a psalm which praises the power of God, braking "the arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword and the battle". Here soli and tutti alternate. The third section is remarkable: "They have slept their sleep" which is eloquently expressed in long notes and a steady rhythm. "The earth trembled and was still": a cadence on "still" is followed by an extended pause.

This disc serves as impressive testimony to Charpentier's art, not without reason often considered one of the geniuses of music history. Martin Gester delivers excellent performances in which the expression in Charpentier's music is explored to the full. His team of soloists is top notch, although the second soprano is a bit out of step because of her use of excessive vibrato. That is especially problematic as she sings only in ensemble with other soloists. The choir is a youth choir with boys and girls; it produces a quite strong sound which is fully appropriate to this repertoire. The Latin texts are sung in French pronunciation.

The booklet contains programme notes in French and the lyrics. An English translation is supplied for both. It adds to a first-rate production, which fully deserves to be reissued.

Johan van Veen

A welcome reissue of fine performances of four splendid compositions by Charpentier, among them the Te Deum.