The music on these two CDs is beautiful, atmospheric and exquisitely performed. At the centre are two major early works by Charpentier, the Motet pour les trépassés
and Messe pour les trépassés
which were written for the composer's patron in Paris, Marie de Lorraine, after three members of her family died during the years 1671-75. The Miserere des Jésuites
was a reworking of that same motet which was composed after her death in 1690. On the first CD we hear these in their entirety together with a Fugue by Charpentier's contemporary, François Roberday.
You will need a little introduction to the sequence of these works, though; and to be aware of it in order to get the most from the music: first comes the Kyrie
of the mass after the evocative bells (Carillons de Paris
, indicated as being by Louis Couperin). It's divided into an instrumental section (the Symphonie du Kyrie
) and the usual Ordinary text. Before the Sanctus
(there is no Credo
) we have the three movements of the motet. There are further instrumental segments before the Sanctus
and Agnus Dei
This is assumed to be a likely and typical order of contemporary performance. Also restored for this highly convincing and compelling performance are the instrumental parts which it's known were added to Charpentier's scores on the occasion of performance. For this recording these were worked up by Jean Lionnet (to whom it is dedicated). Nothing out-of-place or in any way obtrusive… although the use of cornets adds depth to the more dramatic moments of the Mass. It's known such instruments were still used at Versailles almost 50 years later.
So authenticity has been respected. But as the sweep and dolefulness of the music compel you to follow the beautifully-sung texts, you are scarcely aware of these musicological refinements. Charpentier's music is blissfully beautiful, even in its sadness. And the soloists, Chœur de Chambre de Namur, two Ensembles, Jacques Moderne and La Fenice under Jean Tubery perform with a verve and sensitivity that leaves you immediately wanting more. Charpentier wrote profound and somehow very 'honest' music in the way that Bach did. Tubery knows as much, and the fugues, the open and airy musical language, the delicate yet unfussy obbligato writing, and the highly expressive matching of lyrical and concentrated texts to the melodies lend themselves to performances of great beauty and persuasion. These are delivered from first note to last by Tubery and his forces.
Indeed, it's Charpentier's sense of this very concentration that distinguishes his writing so nicely. And Tubery brings out the intensity and warmth without ever for a minute tending to indulgence. The playing is tight, clear and and approachable.
Pierre Tabart is another near contemporary of Charpentier. His musical life was spent in the provinces, yet he clearly followed wider trends. Few requiems were written in the reign of Louis XIV so the one occupying the bulk of the second CD is especially interesting. It's a rich and somewhat exuberant work - very different from anything by Charpentier. There are passages of great beauty and harmonic richness, sometimes redolent even of the splendour and heights of Monteverdi … the final movements, for example.
Again the singers and players are completely at home in the idiom and present a compelling and very enjoyable account. The text is carefully and expressively articulated with a mixture of extroversion in the livelier passages and respectful reflection in those less so. The Te Deum
use more up-to-date techniques and are of a more virtuoso tone, which seems appropriate. The choir, though, retains control and direction without ever losing impetus or spontaneity. The soloists successfully elicit every drop of plaint from all points of the blend of sacred words and music … the Dies Irae
of the Requiem, for example [CD.2 tr.14], is sung slowly and with passionate gravity. Yet no hint of floweriness or bombast. Just what's needed.
As on the first CD, (short) works - by Raison and de Grigny - respectively precede and are interleaved between the more substantial works by Tabart. This is harder to explain other than as contrasts: de Grigny's Cromorne
is for organ only. Nevertheless, these over two hours of highly stimulating and enjoyable music from late seventeenth century with few creditable competitor recordings should be snapped up by all lovers of music of the period.
The acoustics on each of these two CDs are lively and only add to the music. The booklet is a little spare… no texts or biographies of the performers. But Charpentier is a composer neglected out of proportion to his achievements. This release should go a long way to enhancing his reputation - by setting those achievements in musical and historical context, for sure. But chiefly by presenting, unfettered and unglossed, the wonderful melodies, textures and settings in which Charpentier so excelled.Mark Sealey
A truly splendid collection, faithfully reproduced. Compelling religious vocal music performed by musicians highly suited to making much of the repertoire and on top form… see Full Review