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Lalande motets HMM902625
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Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726)
Grands Motets
Dies irae (S 31)
Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roi:
3e Caprice (Quatuor) (S 162,5)
Miserere (S 27)
Veni creator (S 14)
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from
Bonus download track: Grande pièce royale en sol "Deuxième Fantaisie ou Caprice que le Roi demandait souvent"

The grand motet was one of the main genres of sacred music in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The first composers of such works were Henry Du Mont, Pierre Robert and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In the decades around 1700 the most famous composer of grands motets was Michel-Richard de Lalande, the favourite of Louis XIV. He played a key role at music life at the court, combining several of the most important musical posts. He created a large oeuvre, in which the grand motet takes a special place. In the later stages of his life he reworked many of his motets, which attests to their popularity, but also to his development as a composer. His motets were still performed at the Chapelle Royale after his death, and from 1725 onwards they were also part of the repertoire of the Concert Spirituel.

If Lalande's grands motets are performed, it is mostly the revised versions that are selected. The disc under review focuses rather on the original versions, written between 1684 and 1690. Most motets are settings of psalms, but the programme opens with a text from the Office of the Dead, the Dies irae. It was composed for the funeral of Maria Anna Christine Victoria of Bavaria, Dauphine of France by marriage to Louis, Grand Dauphin, son and heir of Louis XIV. She was known as la Grande Dauphine. She suffered from bad health and died in April 1690 at the age of 29. The Dies irae was performed in later years for funerals of other members of the royal family. It is very likely that this work was also performed at Louis XIV's own funeral in 1715. The later versions are all reworkings, but here we get the first version. As is the case in all grands motets, the text is divided in tutti and solo episodes. Lalande's motets were considered models of text expression, and this piece is a perfect example. Note, for instance, the trumpet-like figures in the 'Tuba mirum'. There is a strong contrast at the end of the eighth section between "Worthless are my prayers and sighing, Yet, good Lord, in grace complying" on the one hand, and "Rescue me from fires undying" on the other. And the closing line of the next section, "Call me with Thy saints surrounded" is at first sung several times by the high voices alone - a clear reference to heaven, the residence of the saints. 'Oro supplex et acclinis' ("Low I kneel, with heart's submission, See, like ashes, my contrition, help me in my last condition") is appropriately scored for a solo voice.

Miserere (Psalm 50/51), one of the penitential psalms, played a major role in the liturgy of Holy Week. Lalande's setting dates from 1687 and it is one of his greatest works. It is telling that he revised it two times; the first revision dates from before 1711 and is for a solo voice. Sébastien Daucé recorded it together with Lalande's Leçons de ténèbres (Harmonia Mundi, 2015 - review). It is a work of great intensity, in which every verse is set with a thorough understanding of its meaning. Impressive is the opening, a solo for soprano, which perfectly expresses the urgency of this prayer for mercy. The tender 'Asperges me' (Purge me with hyssop) is a solo for soprano, accompanied by a pair of transverse flutes. Very different, but equally eloquent, is the penultimate section, 'Sacrificium Deo' (The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit), a solo for low tenor.

The last motet is very different in character. Veni creator, written in 1684, is a hymn for Whitsun, but had a broader meaning in Louis XIV's France. It was also used for ceremonies of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, of which the King was Grand Maître. These could take place at Whitsun, but also on New Year's Day and at Candlemas. This motet was also revised, in 1722, and Thomas Leconte, in his liner-notes, states that this version may have been performed at the occasion of the coronation of Louis XV that year. Here we get the original version. It is a rather short work, divided into six sections, each of them set for solo voice(s), in alternation with the tutti.

In recent years I have reviewed several recordings of grands motets. Recently the label Château de Versailles Spectacles started a series of recordings of this repertoire. That is a good development, as it is quite rich and varied, as the present disc shows. The performances by the Ensemble Correspondances are top-class and better than any other comparable recording I have heard recently. The ensemble is impeccable, but the contributions of its members in the solo parts are even more impressive. If you have singers like Caroline Weynants, Perrine Devillers, Lucile Richardot, Vojtěch Semerád (what a wonderful high tenor) and Étienne Bazola in your ranks, what could go wrong?

In short, this is a splendid disc, that anyone who likes French baroque music should not miss.

On a technical note: the digital version which was at my disposal ends with an instrumental piece, Grande pièce royale en sol, with the subtitle "Deuxième Fantaisie ou Caprice que le Roi demandait souvent". It is not on the physical disc.

Johan van Veen

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