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Charpentier: Messe & Te Deum À Huit Voix / Niquet

Release Date: 07/25/2006 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 921611   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


Those conversant with their Hitchcock numbers will not be caught out, but in case (like most of us) you’re not, the first thing to make clear is that this is not one of the ubiquitous Te Deum (H 146) recordings which recently seem to have been winging their way from Tenafly on a regular basis. The one we have here is the most lavish, and also the earliest of Charpentier’s four extant settings, composed in 1672. As Catherine Cessac, the composer’s biographer, wrote, “No military victory, no event affecting the lives of the royal family went by without being celebrated throughout France with some sort of Te Deum
Read more performance,” and in the present case the inspiration was probably the first victories of French troops in Holland in the June of 1672. The work is certainly planned on an imposing scale, being scored for double four-part petit and grand choeur, and a double orchestra of strings, recorders, and oboes.

The Mass for 8 Voices is likely to date from the previous year, when it was commissioned by the Jesuits of the Rue Sainte-Antoine to celebrate the canonization of one of the senior members of their order, Francis Borgia. The scoring is almost identical to that of the Te Deum, the only difference being that both orchestras call for pairs of recorders rather than recorder and oboe.

There can be no question that like the most sumptuous of all Charpentier’s masses, the contemporary Mass for four choirs (H 4), both works betray the deep influence of the Roman polychoral tradition with which the composer had become familiar during his stay in the Eternal City. One finds the same love of sonority, the same block harmonies, use of antiphonal effects, and, perhaps most telling of all, grandiose effects that at times sweep the listener along with the sheer exuberance of it all. Such movements abound, especially in the brilliant Te Deum, among them the imposing “Pleni sunt caeli,” the expansive “Te per orbem,” or the final “In te, Domini,” where invigorating dance-like rhythms for full choir alternate with passages for the petit choeur and orchestral ritornellos to bring the work to a close in a whirlwind of kaleidoscopic color. Such overwhelmingly exultant celebration is understandably less evident in the Mass, the mood of which is often unexpectedly lyrical given the forces Charpentier had at his command. Even here, though, there are passages of great splendor, of which the Amen of the Credo, a rare moment of polyphonic mastery in the midst of the prevailing homophony, is arguably the most striking example.

Yet the grandeur of much of the writing is by no means the whole story, and perhaps most impressive of all is the manner in which the young Charpentier so skillfully interweaves these full choral passages with the intimacy of the ensemble-writing for his two groups of soloists, who work either together or as separate quartets, trios (invariably all-male), or duos, nearly always the two sopranos. The part-writing in these ensembles, often counterpointed by recorders, is often exquisitely lovely, as at the penitential words “Misere nostri” (Te Deum), or the second Agnus Dei of the Mass, allotted to the three male voices of the second petit choeur and a sharp contrast to the first Agnus, a heart-easing setting for orchestra alone. In the Mass, Charpentier frequently springs surprises, such as at the outset of the Gloria, where rather than the expected triumphant choral outburst there is a delicious dance-like duet for the two sopranos, or “Et resurrexit” (Credo), where again the composer eschews a triumphal choral outburst in favor of a solo trio for the men of the first petit choeur, accompanied by a rising figure for solo violin, a supremely imaginative touch.

There is little recorded competition for either of these works, both at present being represented only on two separate Hungaroton discs, that of the Te Deum being an elderly (1978) modern-instrument version. Neither of these has come my way, but whatever their merits I greatly doubt that either would represent serious competition to the present issue, which seems to me one of the best in the series of Charpentier CDs made by Hervé Niquet and his Le Concert Spirituel. Seemingly gone are the days when Niquet favored brisk tempos that often worked against the poise, elegance, and, at times, repose of Charpentier’s music. Here, employing the generous acoustic of the church of Notre Dame du Luban with considerable skill, he allows both the imposing full choral passages and more tranquil moments due time and space to make their full effect. The results are immensely satisfying, both thrilling the senses and touching the heart. He has also assembled a very fine lineup of soloists, all of whom more than measure up to the task in hand, as indeed do his orchestral forces and the larger choir. Glossa has captured the varying levels of dynamics with great success, allowing the full forces considerable weight, while allowing plenty of spaciousness to the smaller ensembles. There is an excellent note, but no translation of the texts (other than into French), but that hardly matters with such familiar words. This is an outstanding disc of two little known, but highly rewarding Charpentier works.

FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

Messe à 8 voix et 8 violons et flûtes, H 3 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1670s; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/2005 
Venue:  Notre Dame du Liban Church, Paris 
Te Deum in C major, H 145 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa ?1670; France 
Date of Recording: 09/2005 
Venue:  Notre Dame du Liban Church, Paris 

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