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Messe du Roi Soleil: The Sun King’s Mass
François-André Danican PHILIDOR (1652-1730)
Marche pour fifres et tambours [0:43]
Jean-Adam GUILAIN (c.1680-1739)
Suite du troisième ton: Plein jeu [2:05]
Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Exaltabo te Domine, S.66 [22:37]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Messe à l’usage des Couvents: Dialogue sur les grands jeux [1:37]
Venite exultemus Domino [4:21]
Messe à l’usage des Couvents: Tierce en taille [3:20]
Communion de la Messe pour Saint Louis [1:06]
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Exaudiat te Dominus [17:11]
Chœur Marguerite Louise
Ensemble Marguerite Louise/Gaétan Jarry (organ)
rec. live, Chappelle Royale de Versailles, July 2018. DDD.
Texts and translations included.

Les Grandes Eaux de Versailles: Musique des Fêtes Royales 2019
Extracts from recordings of music by Jean-Baptiste LULLY, François-André Danican PHILIDOR, Michel-Richard de LALANDE, Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676), Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704), André CAMPRA (1660-1744), George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759), Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) and others
King’s Consort/Robert King; Le Poème Harmonique/Vincent Dumestre, Collegium 1704/Václav Luks, Galilei Consort/Benjamin Chénier, Chœuer et Ensemble Marguerite Louise/Gaétan Jarry.

Two warnings: let me say at the outset that CVS008, while it contains some fine music, is not quite what it claims to be on the cover, a Mass for Louis XIV, the Sun King. The two works central to the programme, the large-scale grands motets by Lalande and Lully may well have been performed as part of such a service, but they do not constitute a setting of the Mass. François Couperin’s Venite exultemus Domino is a setting of the invitatory psalm for Matins.

More seriously, I cannot recommend CVS700, the latest  (2019) edition of a series of releases with the title Les Grandes Eaux de Versailles offering snippets from other recordings; formerly released on the Alia Vox, Alpha and Ambroisie labels, some of these earlier albums are now download only. It’s always struck me as rather poor value to sell what are in effect samplers at full price, no less so now that the mantle has fallen upon the shoulders of the fairly new Château de Versailles label. Costing a ridiculous £17.20 from one dealer, some of the extracts are very short. Beautiful music to be sure, of which more anon, but it’s all designed to encourage you to buy one of the CDs or DVDs which have appeared to date. In which case, it’s best to stream this album from Naxos Music Library, then choose the recording(s) that appeal.

One of the recordings included on the sampler is CVS008, the subject of the main review. Prior to the release by these forces of Les Arts Florissans earlier this year, my last encounter with Chœur et Ensemble Marguerite Louise and Gaétan Jarry was some time ago in the form of music by Charpentier and Boyvin on L’Encelade ECL1403, welcomed in the strongest terms by Michael Cookson – review. That CD is not very widely available but it’s worth searching out; MC’s review includes a link to Amazon UK and it can be streamed or downloaded, with pdf booklet, from Qobuz.

I mentioned the recording of Les Arts Florissans in reviewing another release on this label, Francesco Cavalli’s large-scale Mass of 1660 and other music on CVS006 – review. I promised then to catch up with some of the other recordings in the series and can certainly report that I enjoyed Les Arts Florissans on CVS001, as streamed, with pdf booklet, from Naxos Music Library. My only complaint is that, even with the addition of the 12-minute excerpts from La Couronne des Fleurs, the album offers short value for a premium-price product. (Incidentally, the same is true of the ‘Mass’ on CVS008.) The Harmonia Mundi recording of that work by the eponymous Les Arts Florissants and William Christie is even shorter, at 40 minutes, but at least it comes as a budget-price CD and download (HAF8901083, as little as £4.99 in lossless sound from, NO booklet; £5.98 with booklet, or £5.40 special offer CD, from Presto).

I imagine that the sampler CD is on sale at Versailles – there ais even a Mandarin edition. If you bought it there as a souvenir, your money won’t have been wasted if it leads you to one of the complete recordings on this label, including the music for the Sun King on CVS008.

I’ve already said that the real selling point of the new recording comes from the two grands motets. I had expected to find several alternatives for each of these, but was surprised to see that this version of the Lalande Exaltabo te Domine seems to be the only one currently available – I tried all the variant spellings of the composer’s name. Some very fine recordings of his other grands motets there are – see my recommendation of one of the most recent, on Glossa, with several additional listings – but none of this work. (An ancient Louis Frémaux recording on a BnF download is of another work with the same opening words.)

That Glossa recording offers an all-Lalande programme, as does or another recent album from Le Poème Harmonique and Vincent Dumestre. Does that make them preferable to the new Versailles release? Both would make fine introductions to the composer, as would an older Erato Veritas super-budget twofer and an Alto budget-price single CD – all of which I mention with approval in that Glossa review. But one or more of those recordings might be better regarded as your next step after the new performance by the Ensemble Marguerite Louise. There’s plenty of variety on the new CD and I very much enjoyed hearing it.

It also gives an opportunity to compare and contrast the styles of these composers. I don’t intend to take sides, because there are fine examples here of the three major figures. I’ve already mentioned how I can foresee this album encouraging greater exploration of Lalande and the same is true of Couperin; the two short extracts from his organ mass for the use of convents could well lead to a complete recording of that music, designed to be played while the priest intones the words sotto voce.

It’s often coupled with the similar Messe pour les paroisses, for ordinary parish use, as on an inexpensive 2-CD recording by Marie-Claire Alain (Erato 2292454606, with Clérambault Suite du deuxième ton, download only).

Though Lully had no official standing in Louis XIV’s royal chapel – his duties as composer-in-ordinary involved the king’s private music – the grands motets which he composed were among its glories. In the case of his Exaudiat te Dominus, there is one other recording, on Volume 3 of a very fine Naxos series of those grands motets from Le Concert Spirituel and Hervé Niquet (8.554300, with O dulcissime Domine, Notus in Judæa, Laudate pueri and Benedictus – 4/4-star review). For Colin Clarke, this brisk and exuberant account of Exaudiat te Dominus is the highlight of the Naxos recording and I’m not about to disagree: I’ve yet to find a dud among the many recordings which this team made for Naxos and other labels. The opening word exaudiat, may [the Lord] hear [you], pronounced in the French manner, sounds almost like the word victoria, victory, so exuberant is this performance.

The two performances are tracked slightly differently, but in all the verses the Naxos recording is slightly faster, coming very close to sounding hectic without actually doing so. Overall, I’m inclined to prefer the slightly more measured account on the new recording, but the Naxos would cost very little as a supplement, especially if downloaded.

This is the second recording of music for Louis XIV as recorded in Versailles to have come my way recently – actually, it was the first, but my chaotic system of working meant that I completed the other review first. Though it, too, bears the Château de Versailles logo, it’s released by Alpha. It actually dovetails neatly with CVS008 in that it contains three more of the large-scale works composed by Lully for the chapel royal: Dies iræ, De profundis and Te Deum, performed by Sophie Junker, Judith Van Wanroij, Matthias Vidal, Cyril Auvity, Thibaut Lenaerts, Alain Buet and the Chœur de Chambre de Namur with the Millennium Orchestra and Cappella Mediterranea directed by Leonardo García Alarcón (ALPHA ALPHA444 or 307224). Though there are some other fine recordings of these works, including from Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel on Naxos, overall, as with the Messe du Roi Soleil, my inclination now is to make the new recording my first choice.

The new Alpha and CVS008 both offer fine accounts of music associated with Louis XIV’s chapel at Versailles. If you can afford to purchase only one, subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream the other, as well as Hervé Niquet’s Naxos recordings of this repertoire – old friends which, if superseded by these new Versailles recordings are still very well worth hearing. With so many fine recordings of Lully and his contemporaries, the problem now is one of choice.  Forget my reservations about the misleading title and Messe du Roi Soleil will give great pleasure.

Brian Wilson

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