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Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Grands Motets

Venite exultemus Domino, Psalm 94 (95) S.58 (1701)* [28:53]
De Profundis, Psalm 129 (130) S.23 (1689) [24:45]
Dominus regnavit, Psalm 96 (97) S.65 (1704)* [24:49]
Chantal Santon-Jeffery (soprano), Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor), Lisandro Abadie (bass-baritone), François Joron (baritone);
Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Les Pages du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Collegium Marianum/Olivier Schneebeli
rec. live July 2017, Chapelle Royale of the Château de Versailles, France. DDD.
* restored original versions.
Texts and translations included.
GLOSSA GCD924301 [78:41]

Though we tend to think of Lully as the great musical luminary of the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, we should not forget the other talented musicians of the time, chief among them for me Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the neglected Michel-Richard de Lalande, or Delalande, the king’s favourite composer. Lalande’s output includes both grands and petits motets, the latter under-represented in the catalogue: only one collection, from Les Arts Florissants directed by William Christie springs to mind – formerly available at super-budget price on Harmonia Mundi Musique d’Abord (now download only), that was reissued earlier this year on mid-price HAF8901416. Both types were composed for the king’s delectation at Mass.

The distinction is not so much a matter of length – some of the petits motets are almost as long as the grands motets – but of the scale of the work. In the case of the grands motets, of which there are 77, where much larger forces are employed, we are lucky to have a greater choice of recordings. A little earlier this year I reviewed an Alpha album containing the Te Deum, S32, and two other grands motets, performed by Ensemble Aedes and Le Poème Harmonique, directed by Vincent Dumestre. (Alpha 968 – review review by Mark Sealey).

My only reservation about the Alpha was the inadequacy of the press preview and the comic cover illustration of Louis XIV’s feet. I ended by sending up a prayer to Alpha and anyone else who might be taking note for more such, and here it is – without any overlap of repertoire, too.

With very fine performances and recording – as with the Alpha, in the chapel at Versailles for which the music was composed1 – you will need to stretch your credit cards twice this year for Lalande. I can’t help your finances by recommending one above the other, but this time even the cover picture of the Sun King himself matches the quality of the whole.

The only soloist at all well-known is the tenor Reinoud van Mechelen, whom I praised for clarity and beauty in Bach (Alpha 252 – review). Here in the peculiarly French haute-contre role, he and all the others acquit themselves very creditably, and they are very well supported vocally and instrumentally – the Collegium Marianum performing on the (loaned) vingt-quatre violons du roi. Olivier Schneebeli directs with as sure a hand as Vincent Dumestre on the Alpha CD.

The only indication that this is a live recording is that just occasionally the singing is not totally together. I dislike the cardboard triptych style, with the booklet stapled in, but in every other respect the presentation is very good.

Having praised both this and the recent Alpha recording, both at full price, allow me to redress the balance by pointing to a super-bargain offering of Lalande’s grands motets from the King’s Consort and Choir of New College, Oxford, directed by Edward Higginbottom, with Miserere and Confitebor tibi (Warner Erato Veritas 9029574010, around £8.50). That contains De profundis, as does another inexpensive recording by Ex Cathedra directed by Jeffrey Skidmore (Alto ALC1216 – review).

The New College performances sound less idiomatic, less grand, alongside the new recording, partly because Higginbottom generally chooses slightly faster tempi, but the 2-CD set is valuable for containing Olivier Schneebeli’s recordings of Beati quorum, Quam dilecta and Audite cæli on CD2, recorded in 2001 with Les Pages et les Chantres de Versailles, as on the new Glossa CD.

Skidmore also generally chooses slightly faster tempi in De profundis. Overall, his performance is preferable to that of Higginbottom and I very much hope that the deletion of his Hyperion recording of Lalande’s music means that it has been licensed to another label (CDA67325, not even available to download or via the Archive service). Both Higginbottom and Skidmore are well versed in the French music of this period but the new recording outshines both. My only reservation would be that some might be put off by Schneebeli’s energetic style, which Robert Hugill noted in reviewing an earlier single-CD release of his earlier Virgin recording. I wasn’t.

If you are looking for just one recording of Lalande’s grands motets, Schneebeli’s earlier super-budget offering of three of them on the Veritas twofer will do very well, but my preference would be for the new Glossa, not least for its better presentation. But, then, I’m going to recommend both – and the earlier Alpha recording. The Dumestre and both Schneebeli recordings are very enjoyable and they stand up well against what little competition there is.

1 Though some of this music preceded the consecration of the final chapel at Versailles in 1710, the notes in the Glossa booklet make a strong case for Lalande’s having anticipated the qualities of that building.

Brian Wilson

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