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Charpentier: Judith Sive Bethulia Liberata, Caedes Sanctorum Innocentium / Schneebeli

Charpentier / Aros / Novelli / Schneebeli
Release Date: 05/14/2013 
Label:  K617 Records France   Catalog #: 617242  
Composer:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Performer:  Erwin ArosDagmar SaskovaJean-François NovelliArnaud Richard
Conductor:  Olivier Schneebeli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Pages et Les Chantres de Versailles
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



M.-A. CHARPENTIER Judith ou Béthulie Libérée. Le Massacre des Innocents Olivier Schneebeli, cond; Dagmar Sasková (sop); Erwin Aros (ct); Jean-François Novelli (ten); Arnaud Richard (bs); Les Pages, Les Chantres; Les Symphonistes du Centre de musique baroque du Versailles (period instruments) K617 617242 (59:19 Text and Translation)


Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a composer who for many years stood in the shadow of Jean-Baptiste Lully, is today Read more recognized as one of the most interesting figures of the time of Louis XIV. His focus upon sacred music probably avoided much of the conflict or rivalry that would have ensued had he tried to write opera or ballet, but that didn’t stop him from nibbling around the edges, so to speak. Much of this comes in the form of histoires sacrées , dramatic incidents drawn from Biblical sources and reflecting the popular Latin oratorio of Charpentier’s mentor, Giacomo Carissimi. The irony of it is that these works are neither church nor secular music, and this French version of the oratorio reflects the composer’s Italian musical education, thus making them works in the Italian style by a French composer as opposed to the operas of Lully, an Italian, which are all very French in style.


The two histories on this disc have been recorded before; Judith was done back in the dark ages of 1989 on Erato by the English Bach Festival, and conductor Olivier Schneebeli did a very nice disc with the Simphonie de Marais in 1996 on Adda. The former is quite dated, but the latter is a nice rendition. These works are therefore long overdue for a more recent recording. In the typical Italian manner of the period, Charpentier chooses to present the story through chorus, recitative (mostly narrative, though the characters of Ozias, Holofernes, and Judith do appear, as do various supernumeraries), and aria/arioso. For example, the meeting of Judith and Holofernes begins with a long secco recitative for the former, which suddenly becomes a sort of continuo aria as she approaches the Assyrian. He responds in kind, and at the end she demurely resorts back to recitative. One might have expected them to do a duet here, but this is left to the Assyrian narrators, who trip over each other (to the text that Holofernes has had a bit too much wine) musically. After her servant narrates the scene, Judith appears with a rather sprightly aria, “Ouvrez les portes,” which is answered by a chorus with some counterpoint in which the lines overlap each other. Judith’s final aria is a more complex continuo aria very much in the Venetian operatic style, one section concluding with pairs of recorders and the others accompanied by violin ritornellos. All of this flows in a continuous stream, so that the listener is presented with a through-composed story.


The Massacre , on the other hand, is on much less solid ground in terms of the story, being based solely on a couple of terse verses in Matthew, with the rest cobbled together from reactive responses and a final chorus that paraphrases Revelation. Here Charpentier begins with a prelude that sounds very Corellian, with a slow introduction followed by another solemn movement with a floating recorder line. This makes the rather insistent faster chorus of the mothers feel quite contrasting. Herod’s entrance is suitably nasty, though the accompanying recorders mitigate the tone somewhat. Their texture is held over into the subsequent chorus. The lament of the mothers “O crudele martyrium” is less sorrowful than an expression of shock, and one does not expect the nice homophonic women’s chorus in a major key that follows.


In general, the performance is quite well done, with Schneebeli insuring that his ensemble and soloists form a seamless flow, probably just as Charpentier would have wanted. The use of changing continuo support, from organ to harpsichord, lends a nice variety, and the chorus performs its sometimes melismatic lines in tune and with no disconnect from the orchestra. As this is a live performance, though, each of the works has a few moments of applause, which can be distracting. The microphone placement often seems to cause several problems: first, it can make the choral sound a bit wooly, especially in some of the contrapuntal passages and forte s; second, it sometimes produces an annoying reverberation effect, albeit mostly momentarily; and third, sometimes it obscures the text. These problems seem to pop up from time to time, but I don’t find them too terribly distracting from the fine performance by the musicians. I suspect that this will not be the last time either work will be recorded, but we may have to wait awhile for other versions to appear. In the meantime, you would not go amiss to include this in your collection.


FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

1.
Caedes sanctorum innocentium, H 411 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Performer:  Erwin Aros (Countertenor), Dagmar Saskova (Mezzo Soprano), Jean-François Novelli (Tenor),
Arnaud Richard (Bass)
Conductor:  Olivier Schneebeli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Pages et Les Chantres de Versailles
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1683-1684; France 
2.
Judith sive Bethulia liberata, H 391 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Performer:  Erwin Aros (Countertenor), Dagmar Saskova (Mezzo Soprano), Jean-François Novelli (Tenor),
Arnaud Richard (Bass)
Conductor:  Olivier Schneebeli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Pages et Les Chantres de Versailles
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1670s 

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