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Charpentier: Te Deum / Tubéry, La Fenice, Et Al

Release Date: 12/27/2005 
Label:  Ricercar   Catalog #: 245   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Jean Tubery
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Namur Chamber ChoirLa FeniceLes Agrémens
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHARPENTIER Te Deum, H 416. Messe pour plusieurs instruments , H 513 ? Jean Tubéry (rec), dir; Claire Lefilliâtre (sop); François-Nicolas Geslot (ct); Bruno Boterf (ten); Jean-Claude Sarragosse (bs); Namur C Ch; Les Agrémens; La Fenice (period instruments) ? RICERCAR RIC 245 (49:50 & , no translation)

As Read more a glance at the heading reveals, this issue starts with the severe disadvantage of a timing that Ricercar was apparently too embarrassed to print anywhere in their presentation. Neither is the lack of a translation of the Te Deum helpful, although it is of course easily come by from other sources. All this is a great pity, since this is in other respects an excellent disc.

The unfamiliar work here is the Messe pour plusieurs instruments au lieu des orgues , previously available only in an unsatisfactory version by Musica Antiqua Köln ( Fanfare 27:6). As a result of research by the American scholar Patricia Ranum, more information on the background to the Mass has emerged since I wrote that review. It appears that it was composed for the convent of Notre Dame de la Mercy in Paris, a Spanish order that had commissioned an organ that would not be completed until after they had celebrated an important occasion, the canonization of a Spanish bishop. The rules of the order forbade the use of other instruments, the sole exception being if the ceremonies were sponsored by a layperson. In desperation, the church authorities turned to Madame and Mademoiselle de Guise, whose house not only stood opposite the convent, but whose musical establishment was renowned in Paris, and at this time (the early 1670s) employed Charpentier. The composer came up with the highly ingenious, indeed unique, solution of providing a Mass that conformed to the typically French form of the organ Mass with alternating plainsong verses, but scored for instruments imitating the colors of the organ, the whole unified by the use of cantus firmus .

Even before any performance considerations are taken into account, Tubéry?s performance has the advantage over Goebel?s in using such rare instruments as the serpent (to produce the equivalent of pedal notes) and a crumhorn. The latter in particular has a sound so characteristic of French organs of the period that its contribution to both the full ensemble, and solo appearances (?Quoniam? from the Gloria) add immeasurably to the effect sought by the composer. But apart from this, the whole performance has an idiomatic feel to it that is quite lacking in the earlier version, my sole reservation being La Fenice?s wiry string timbre.

The Te Deum is the familiar setting, the last recording to be reviewed in these pages being William Christie?s second take on the work (29: 4). I found little about which to get excited in that live performance, which seemed to me markedly inferior to his pioneering Harmonia Mundi version. Tubéry?s is a different matter altogether. Although taking marginally slower tempos than Martin Gester (my prime recommendation up to now), he does not forget that the work is imbued with the spirit of the dance. Yet there is, too, a spirit of sweet reverence about Tubéry?s conception that pays special dividends in the prayerful, and supplicatory passages of the work. The trio for male soloists, ?Te per orbem,? is beautifully done, with outstanding ensemble work, coming to an exquisitely sensitive conclusion at the words ?non horruisti Virginis uterum? (thou didst not abhor the Virgin?s womb). The soprano solo ?Te ergo? is arguably taken too slowly, but so purely angelic, so translucent is Claire Lefilliâtre?s singing that reservations are immediately banished. Other assets of this performance are the truly incisive singing and excellent diction of the Namur choir and the playing of Les Agrémens, whose softly grained flutes sound especially lovely. The bigger moments sound well, too, with some splendid trumpet-playing on a Baroque trumpet lacking the inauthentic bored holes period-players have traditionally employed.

This is, then, a strongly competitive version of the Te Deum , boasting better soloists than those in Gester?s vital, exuberant performance on a disc that also includes three motets. It also has generally superior sound, although the trumpets and drums are rather distantly balanced against the other performers. Leaving aside the miserable playing time, I?m inclined to think this new recording would now be my first choice for the Te Deum . The addition of the only recommendable performance of a rarity may even be enough to suggest in this case setting aside value for money, and putting artistic considerations first.

FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

Te Deum in D major, H 146 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Jean Tubery
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Namur Chamber Choir,  La Fenice,  Les Agrémens
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa ?1690; France 
Messe pour plusieurs instruments, H 513 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Jean Tubery
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Namur Chamber Choir,  La Fenice,  Les Agrémens
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1672; France 

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