Here's a lively, energetic and utterly enjoyable CD. Originally
issued on - or at least as part of - ASV Gaudeamus (CDGAU150) in 1995
or thereabouts, this is a collection of three sacred choral works
by Michel-Richard de Lalande who worked for Louis XIV and XV at Versailles
from the time the French court moved there from Paris itself in 1683.
They're all lively, sprightly - yet substantial - compositions
with Latin texts: motets for use in the daily religious services at
the Court. The Easter Antiphon, Regina coeli [trs. 1-4],
makes something of an extrovert opening for the CD, which does not,
however, attempt to recreate or stage any one event.
In that Lalande represents the apogee of French Baroque sacred choral
work, the disc contains a good selection of his work - otherwise unavailable
- apart from a recording by Deller of the De profundis on
Vanguard 8108. Both the latter [trs. 5-13] and Cantate Domino
… quia mirabilia [trs. 14-21] are stimulating compositions that
will elicit delight. They're amongst Lalande's best.
Full of varied instrumental colour, plangent and joyous tonalities,
they exude movement and energy, and are directed purposefully to the
liturgical ends to which they belong.
None of the three works here is in any way monolithic or unapproachably
bland. For all that their sonic compass is precise and tethered to
an idiom which came and went relatively quickly in the course of the
evolution of this corner of the Baroque, there is breadth, depth and
much feeling in Lalande's choral, solo and instrumental writing.
Skidmore and his forces are completely at home and in tune with this
world. They obviously love the tenor and substance of Lalande's
marriage of text and music; and make the most of it in their careful
yet unstudied delivery.
At the same time the singing and playing allude to the universality
of the appeals which the music makes - to sorrow, regret, a sense
of doom, lament and elation. Yet at the same time there’s a confidence
that comes from knowing how far the poignancy and uplift of the music
itself can counter the pure feelings: balm, equilibrium, hope. The
final 'Requiem aeternam' [tr. 13] movement of the De
profundis is a splendid example. It's as generous in feeling
and expression as anything else on this wonderful CD.
Similarly, the Cantate Domino is unwavering in expressing
respect, joy and hope from happiness and devotion, not loss. Here
too the playing is light of touch, yet misses no opportunity to underline
the texts in all their reach. It's never superficial playing
yet is equally unlaboured.
The members of Ex Cathedra Chamber Choir sing with a "weak"
French Latin pronunciation. They also evince a precision and projection
that makes the text easy to follow; and hence easy to relate to. Nothing
is over-florid or unnecessarily elaborate. At the same time, expression
and a sense of how the music was used in those particular circumstances
are nicely blended with its longer-lasting communicative virtues.
The acoustic of the CD is a little on the dry side, although it manages
to retain the sense that this is music made for the more spacious
environments of Versailles. Indeed, the sound-world may enhance the
already pleasingly clear diction of the singers.
The booklet contains brief background and the outline texts in Latin
and English. Lalande ought to be better known than he is. If you want
to spread the word, or just respond to his wonderful senses of pace,
emotivity and technical brilliance both orchestrally and textually,
this is a very good CD to help.