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Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Charpentier at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles
La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
rec. 1989/2004, Eglise de Notre-Dame du Travail, Paris; Chapelle Royale de Versailles
Region code 0, 2.0 Stereo
ALIA VOX AVDVD9905 [SACDs: 74:50 + 64:06; DVD: 91:47]

This set showcases Savall’s Charpentier, both old and new. The first disc is effectively a re-release for SACD. When it was first issued in 1989, it was Le Concert des Nations’ first recording, and Savall hit upon the idea of re-mastering it for SACD and coupling it with the 2004 performances to mark both the 310th anniversary of Charpentier’s death and the 25th anniversary of Le Concert des Nations. It’s remarkable how fresh it still sounds as a performance, a reminder of how cutting-edge an ensemble Le Concert des Nation have been. In particular, there is a beautifully persuasive way with the strings that shows a seemingly innate understanding of how the lilt of French Baroque works, and that spreads across both discs as a tribute to the outstanding nature of Savall’s musicianship.

The line-up for the first disc, showing Savall’s typically shrewd talent for curating a programme, traces key events in Virgin's life (Annunciation, conception, nativity, epiphany) interspersed with key Marian antiphons, such as the Salve Regina. The texture is very transparent, mainly because of the small number of instrumentalists and singers used. This gives the music a delightfully airy quality, and seems almost to blur the line between what constitutes choral and what solo singing. If the texture gets a little samey after a while then that’s not to deny the beauty of the whole, and the Stabat Mater is particularly enchanting.

The recording location for the second CD (and the DVD) is the Chapelle Royale of Versailles itself. With the movement to this location, the music and the performance all but takes on the character of a piece of site-specific theatre, something enhanced on the DVD by the choir’s use of the various balconies of the chapel. The Mass setting lends itself to that treatment very well. For one thing, there are plenty of interpolated sinfonias to accompany key moments in the mass setting, be that introductory adoration or the veneration of the host itself. The performances are very good. There is plenty of persuasive French lilt to the playing, especially in the strings, but also some saucy wind playing to leaven the texture.

Much as I enjoyed the set, though, and much as I like Charpentier’s music, I have to admit that listening to the whole thing in one sitting becomes a little wearing. Most of the music, particularly on the second disc, radiates a certain Gallic nonchalance, which was perfectly in fitting with the world of the Versailles court – everything a courtier does must seem easy and relaxed – and that doesn’t make it lack for beauty, but it does mean that the tone is seldom varied, for all that. The aural texture of the Concerto for four viols became a little monotonous too, after a while, though there is variety enough in the juxtaposition of its different dance movements.

Still, as a tour of Charpentier’s considerable achievement for both court and church, this set is excellent. The hardback book which encases the discs is illustrated lavishly, contains full texts and translations (in six languages) and has typically scholarly essays about the music and its context.

Simon Thompson


CD 1 [74:50]

1. Canticum in honorem Beate Virginis Mariae inter homines et angelos (H.400) [10:56]
2. Symphonie devant Regina (coeli) : Prélude à 3 (H.509) [0:44]
3. Pour la conception de la Vierge (H.313) [2:44]
4. Nativité de la Vierge (H.309) [4:47]
5. Prélude pour Salve Regina à 3 (H.23a) [1:04]
6. Salve Regina à trois voix pareilles (H.23) [7:15]
7. Pour la fête de l’Épiphanie (H.395) [6:55]
8. Prélude pour le Magnificat à quatre voix (H.533) [1:04]
9. [Magnificat] (H.80) [8:13]
10. Stabat mater pour les religieuses (H.15) [12:55]
11. Litanies de la Vierge à 6 voix et deux dessus de violes (H.83) [17:17]

CD 2 [64:06]
Missa « Assumpta Est Maria » (H.11a), ca. 1698 [37:27]
Missa sex vocibum cum simphonia
1-6. Kyrie - Christe - Kyrie II
7-12. [Gloria:] Et in terra Pax
13-21. [Credo:] Patrem omnipotentem
22-24. [Sanctus]
25-27. Agnus Dei
28. Domine salvum fac Regem (H.303)
29-34. Concert Pour Quatre Parties De Violes (H.545) [21:24]
Prélude -Allemande - Rondeau - Gigue anglaise - Gigue française - Passecaille
35. Nuit: Très lentement (H.416) [5:05]

DVD [91:47]
Messe Et Motets Pour La Vierge
Canticum in honorem Beate Virginis Mariae inter homines et angelos (H.400) [12:27]
Nuit (H.391) In nativitatem Domini canticum (H.416) [6:35]
Stabat mater pour les religieuses (H.15) [17:07]
Litanies de la Vierge à 6 voix et deux dessus de violes (H.83) [18:41]
Missa Assumpta Est Maria (H.11a) [40:59]