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Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Dies Irae - Grands Motets Vol 1
Dies irae [23:08]
O Lachrymae [24:23]
De profundis [21:38]
Les Épopées/Stéphane Fuget
rec. 10-12 July 2020, La Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles, France

The Grands Motets of Lully have not been well served by the record companies. There have been a number of recordings, but they have been short-lived in the catalogues, while others have hardly got to CD. The Dies irae that gives this issue its title is, I think, one of only four recordings that are presently available on disc, and this is one of the more popular of the motets. The other two motets featured here are even worse served on disc, and the Petits Motets has just the one recording, seemingly still available on the wonderful William Christie disc (HAF8901274) from 1987, so this new recording is all the more welcome.

The pace of the opening Dies irae is immediately striking; it is by far the slowest of the three versions I know and indeed seems to be the slowest recording available: 23:08 compared with the 18:32 of Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi HMA1951167), whereas Hervé Niquet (Naxos 8.554398) goes to the other extreme, clocking in at 15:39. (His Dies Irae is currently part of the only complete survey of the complete Grands Motets available on disc (Naxos 8.503229) and well worth investigating.) Despite this difference in timings, Stéphane Fuget’s new recording never sounds slow; rather, it sounds well-paced, suitably penitent and only a little more sombre than the Niquet. It is also better divided than either of my other two versions, with six key points compared to the three of Niquet and the single track of Herreweghe.

Both the O Lachrymae and the De profundis here are once again slower than Hervé Niquet, his recording of the O Lachrymae being the only other available. The De profundis has been served a little better with a further recording by Leonardo García Alarcón (ALPHA 444), which I have not yet managed to hear, but which is the longest version on disc, if not by much. As with the Dies irae, this recording offers the listener a splendid aural experience; the soloists, chorus and instrumentalists are all on excellent form and again accentuate the sombre aspects of the text, making their performances superior to the Niquet, especially in the De profundis, which is super.

Both Niquet’s 1993-94 recording and the earlier Herreweghe, although good, now sound a little dated in comparison to this new issue from Fuget, whose engineers achieve a brighter and more natural result. This new recording is blessed with greater clarity so the sung text comes through better. The booklet notes, too, are superior, with a more in-depth discussion of the music compared to either of the other recordings discussed. All in all, this is a highly impressive, thoroughly enjoyable disc, which, in my experience, is better than any other recording and no fan of Lully and French baroque music in general will want to be without it.

Stuart Sillitoe

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