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Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Majesté : Grands Motets for the Sun King
Deitatis Majestatem, S3 (1681) [26:47]
Ecce Nunc Benedicite, S8 (1683) [13:40]
Te Deum, S32 (1684, rev. 1720s) [34:05]
Emmanuelle De Negri, Dagmar Šašková (soprano), Sean Clayton (haute-contre), Cyril Auvity (tenor), André Morsch (bass)
Ensemble Aedes
Le Poème Harmonique/Vincent Dumestre
rec. May 2017, Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as press preview
ALPHA 968 [74:32]

Of all the composers who wrote music for Louis XIV, Lalande is probably the most neglected, even though he was the king’s favourite and reigned almost single-handed at the court after the death of Lully in 1687. We have plenty of recordings of the music of Rameau, Lully and Charpentier, but this is the only current recording of the first two works on the new album, and Lalande’s Te Deum exists only on one rival recording, from Les Arts Florissants with William Christie on Harmonia Mundi d’Abord at budget price (HMA1951351, download or streaming only).

Though Decca Oiseau-Lyre sixty years ago offered Lalande’s instrumental music for the royal dinner parties and other grand occasions in performances directed by Louis de Froment – still available as an inexpensive download – even recordings of his secular works seem to be in short supply. The most comprehensive comes as a super-budget 4-CD set of his Symphonies pour les soupers du Roi (Harmonia Mundi HMY2921337.40 – review).

I don’t recall hearing Deitatis Majestatem before. It’s a Eucharistic motet, extolling the virtues of receiving Christ in communion, though it probably didn’t escape the listeners that living at Versailles in the company of Le roi soleil – himself probably present at the performance – was also supposed to be a kind of communion. Disappointingly, it seems to have been anything but: with inadequate toilet facilities, the courtiers were forced to relieve themselves in the corridors.

The singing is first-rate, though I should warn potential listeners who are likely to be put off by the (correct) French pronunciation of Latin of the period. The line-up includes that peculiarly French answer to the counter-tenor, an haute-contre, essentially a very high tenor voice. The presence of Le Poème Harmonique and Vincent Dumestre practically guarantees success, as witnessed by their earlier Alpha recording of Te Deum settings by Charpentier and Lullly (see below).

Ecce nun benedicite is almost short enough to count as a petit motet but it’s large in scope. A setting of Psalm 134 (Latin 133), it too receives a very fine performance. It’s the last of the psalms known in Hebrew as ‘Songs of Ascent’, sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, and was appointed in the Breviary for first vespers of major feasts.

Lalande’s majestic Te Deum was revised several times. The version included here dates from what may well be an autograph score dating from after the death of Louis XIV and showing omissions and revisions. That apart, it’s hard to choose between it and the slightly less grandiose Christie recording on Harmonia Mundi – the budget price reflected by the lack of a booklet and availability in mp3 or 16-bit lossless only. It comes with two other motets, Super flumina Babylonis – the only current recording – and Confitebor tibi Domine, so you may well wish to have it alongside the new Alpha, as it can be obtained as a download for little more than £4.

If you know and like the Lully Te Deum, you should also enjoy the Lalande. If you lack a recording of the Lully, it’s available with Charpentier’s setting on another recording in first-rate performances, again by Dumestre and Poème Harmonique (Alpha 952 – review).

Inexplicably, my press preview of the new Alpha omitted the last three of the 29 tracks, so I completed my listening from Qobuz, which is fine for this type of music but, like Naxos Music Library, still inserts annoying gaps where the music is continuous.

Both the press preview and the streamed version were in mp3 only, albeit at the optimum 320k bit-rate. In both formats the recording, made in the very chapel for which the music was composed, is very good. The notes in the booklet are brief but to the point.

Lalande composed 77 grands motets and several more petits motets. Several of the latter have been recorded by Les Arts Florissants, on another budget-price Harmonia Mundi CD, but note to Alpha and other labels: more Lalande, please, especially in performances of this high quality. Meanwhile, the new recording should help to re-establish an unjustly neglected composer. I'm just not sure how Louis XIV’s leg on the cover is relevant.

Brian Wilson

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