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Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Grand motets
Venite, exultemus, Domino, Psalm 94 (95) (1701) [27:51]
De profundis, Psalm 129 (130) (1689) [24:37]
Dominus regnavit, Psalm 96 (97) (1704) [24:47]
Chantal Santon Jeffery (soprano), Reinoud Van Mechelen (haut-contre), François Joron (taille), Lisandro Abadie (basse-taille)
Les Pages et les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles
Collegium Marianum/Olivier Schneebeli
rec. 2017, Chapelle royale of the Château de Versailles
Texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD924301 [78:41]

Although my main musical interests lie elsewhere, I make forays sometimes into the French baroque. This issue gave me an opportunity to sample the specifically French genre of the grand motet. These were, as you will see from the listing, substantial works, with a double choir and an orchestra. They were written specifically for Louis XIV, and reflected his musical and religious tastes. He was a devout if intolerant Roman Catholic, and he regularly attended Mass. Still, he preferred music of this kind to the usual settings of the Mass, which, if I understand correctly, would have been said quietly by the priest, while the music played out. Although a number of composers contributed to the genre, de Lalande was one of the most prominent. He wrote more than seventy works of this kind. They were written for the Royal Chapel at Versailles, which was then in being and constructed, and, for a time, could be performed nowhere else.

Here we have three of them. They are all settings of psalms. (The psalm numbers here, from the Latin Vulgate Bible, are one out with the English Bibles and psalters. The English numbers are in brackets.) The cheerful Venite, exultemus Domino is best known as the opening psalm at Matins, in both the Roman and the English rite. The profound and mournful De profundis is one of the seven penitential psalms; it was also sung at Louis XIV’s funeral. Dominus regnavit is also well-known, though it has no special use. They all have in common the division into separate numbers, all quite short, with jaunty rhythms in the fast passages, and slow ones which do not drag. There also is a varied use of solo voices and chorus, and well-articulated support from the substantial orchestra. They do not make great demands on the listener. No wonder the king enjoyed them.

Venite exultemus and Dominus regnavit are quite similar in these respects. De profundis is rather different. It was written rather earlier and in what the booklet here calls de Lalande’s ‘first style’. This has a more continuous musical flow and a greater use of the chorus. It also has both the Requiem versicles and the Gloria Patri at the end, while the other settings do not even have the latter. This is a sombre and moving work, well matched to the words.

The performances here aim at the utmost in authenticity. They were recorded in the Royal Chapel itself, using not simply period instruments but, as far as possible, the actual instruments originally used. Careful work has also been done on the musical texts: although de Lalande often revised his works, the versions here are in each case the original one. I imagine that equal care was given to the pronunciation of the Latin in accordance with the custom of the time. For example, the g and the v is hard, as in church Latin now, but the soft c is ‘s’ rather than ‘ch’. The disc was produced in cooperation with Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, a research and study centre which publishes authoritative scores of this repertoire.

I greatly enjoyed the work of all the singers and players here. The soloists are very acceptable. Two choirs are involved, one of children (both sexes) and the other an adult mixed choir. The orchestra are the Collegium Marianum, actually a Czech-based group, but they seem happy enough in Versailles. All the singers and players, with their instruments, are individually named. I thought the recording slightly veiled at first, which seemed odd for works recorded in the space for which they were intended, but this soon cleared.

The booklet gives background information in three languages. The Latin texts are given with a seventeenth-century French translation and new one in English, which was made straight from the Latin, rather than one of the standard English versions, which do not quite correspond to it. There are other recordings of De profundis but not, at present anyway, of the other two. There are, of course, a number of recordings of other de Lalande grand motets, but anyone who decides, like me, to start exploring the genre with this one, should be well satisfied.

Stephen Barber

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