Program: #21-09 Air Date: Feb 22, 2021
Love songs up to the early years of Louis XIV, and Charpentier’s journey to Rome.
NOTE: This program is dedicated to Eva Coutaz, who died last month at age 77.
From BBC Magazine: "Having started her career with Harmonia Mundi in 1972 as a press officer, she went on to produce more than 800 recordings with artists including Philippe Herreweghe, [William Christie], Jean-Guihen Queyras, Isabelle Faust and Paul Lewis. She retired from the classical music label in 2016 following a career spanning nearly 30 years. When her husband Bernard Coutaz, Harmonia Mundi’s founder, died in 2010, she became the chairman and CEO of the label until its acquisition by PIAS, a family of independent European record labels.”
I. Ballet Royale de la Nuit (Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé). Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902603.06
To make a lasting impression: that was precisely the grand project of Mazarin, who had just returned to power after the disturbances of the Fronde rebellion. Commissioned by the cardinal in person, this ballet project had been conceived at the highest levels of state as a promotional tool for royal power: the intention was to impose respect on the high- ranking personages of the kingdom, to impress the Parisians who were present, and to disseminate this message elsewhere in the world through the intermediary of the foreign representations.
If today’s historians are in agreement that the Ballet de la Nuit was one of the key spectacles of Louis XIV’s reign, that is because it was influential in numerous respects: political, institutional, aesthetic and musical. For the first time in the history of the genre, the libretto is unified and skilfully laid out in four veilles (the watches of the night) and a concluding grand ballet; all the levels of interpretation and all the arts move towards a single goal: the rising of the Sun.
For this purpose, Mazarin, asked the highest and most reknown artists in the kingdom and in Italy to compose this ode to the young king. The poetry that accompanied the royal ballet was by the illustrious Isaac de Benserade, who already had a high reputation as a writer in 1653, and who was to excel in both the ballet de cour genre and the précieux register. Deploying the widest possible range of learning and invention in his verse, playing by turns on the whimsical, the serious, the comic and the burlesque, Benserade calls on references from mythology, romance and contemporary life.
It is often difficult to establish the names of the composers who wrote the music for the ballets de cour of the early years of Louis XIV’s reign. For the Ballet royal de la Nuit, we can only be sure of the identity of one of them, namely Jean de Cambefort (c.1605-61), who furnished the vocal récits and airs that open each of the four veilles. Many other composers surely took part in it.
II. Si vous vouliez un jour…airs sérieux et à boire, Vol. 2 (Les Arts Florissants/William Christie). Harmonia Mundi CD HAF 8905306.
The best known of the composers presented here is Marc-Antoine Charpentier who is represented by six pieces opening with the ‘Ouverture. Scènes 1 & 2’ from Téméraire Alcidon; whilst this sets the scene well with some excellent instrumental work (something that is a feature throughout this disc) it is the contribution of the three solo male singers, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Cyril Auvity and Lisandro Abadie, that really makes this track stand out. There is some nicely considered interplay between the three which brings this lovely scene between the two shepherds and the god Pan to life. However, it is his ‘Amor vince ogni cosa’, that people will remember most, especially with its depiction of animal noises, a wolf and sheep, from the singers.
Michel Lambert is probably best remembered for his tender Leçons De Ténèbres and his Airs de Cour and was also represented on volume one. Whilst his music, other than the Leçons, is usually featured on compilation discs, there have been a few discs devoted to him and his music, including an earlier incarnation of Les Arts Florissants devoting a disc to his Airs de Cour (HMA 1901123) which was originally released in 1984 and still sounds as compelling as it did then. Here he gets seven tracks, with the beautiful lament ‘J’aimerais mieux souffrir la mort’ being a highlight, along with his ‘Vos mépris chaque jour me causent mille alarmes’, in which the tenor Cyril Auvity is the beautifully tender soloist.
I only have a single disc dedicated to the music of Etienne Moulinié, the wonderful Meslanges pour la chapelle d’un prince (HMC 902194), although his music does feature on a number of other discs that I have. His contribution here includes the feisty acapella ‘Amis, enivrons-nous du vin d’Espagne en France’, which although less than a minute long, makes a real impact, as does his tender bass aria ‘Enfin la beauté que j’adore’, in which Lisandro Abadie shines. His other featured track, ‘Guillot est mon ami’ is another characterful acapella piece, which ends with the singers in a fit of laughter.
Probably the least-known composer here is Sébastien Le Camus who was a musician in the service of Luis XIII, his music features on the disc Douce Félicité - Airs de cour (MF8027) along with that of Lambert, Lully and Sainte-Colombe. His music is earlier in feel and less adventurous than that of the other composers, although the soprano Emmanuelle de Negri makes a sparkling case for his music in ‘Ah, que vous êtes heureux!’, as does mezzo Anna Reinhold in the beautifully passionate ‘Laissez durer la nuit, impatiente Aurore’.
This is a wonderfully engaging and interesting release, one which once again shows that Les Arts Florissants and William Christie remain masters of this repertoire. The singers and instrumentalists are excellent throughout, with their unfetted clean lines captured perfectly well by the engineers. Excellent notes and full texts in French, English and German are included, makr this along with the first volume, a most worthy addition to any collection of French baroque music.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704):
1. Petite Pastorale, Églogue de Bergers, H. 479: Téméraire Alcidon (Lysandre) - Audacieux Lysandre (Alcidon) [09:41]
Etienne Moulinié (1599 - 1676):
2. Airs à boire pour le retour de Monsieur: Amis, enivrons-nous du vin d'Espagne en France [00:50]
Michel Lambert (1610 - 1696):
3. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Amour, je me suis plaint cent fois [03:00]
4. Amor vince ogni cosa, H. 492, Preludio & scena prima: All'armi, all'armi (Filli, Eurilla) [02:23]
5. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Vos yeux adorables [06:18]
6. Airs de cour & de différents auteurs: Enfin la beauté que j’adore [03:25]
Sébastien Le Camus (1610 - 1677):
7. Airs, à deux et trois parties: Ah, que vous êtes heureux ! [02:11]
8. Amor vince ogni cosa, H. 492, Scena seconda: Goderò, mi dice Amore (Linco) [04:51]
9. Tristes déserts, sombre retraite, H. 469 [03:25]
10. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: J'aimerais mieux souffrir la mort [03:40]
11. Amor vince ogni cosa, H. 492, Scena terza: Andate, cercate (Filli) [03:29]
12. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Sans murmurer [04:10]
Sébastien Le Camus:
13. Airs, à deux et trois parties: Laissez durer la nuit, impatiente Aurore [03:15]
14. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Laissez-moi soupirer importune raison [05:12]
15. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Vous avez trop d’appas [04:10]
16. Guillot est mon ami [02:48]
17. Airs à une, II, III et IV parties avec la basse-continue: Vos mépris chaque jour me causent mille alarmes [03:47]
18, Amor vince ogni cosa, H. 492: Scene quarta & ultima (Soccorso, o Dei, soccorso (Eurilla)) [06:58]
III. Charpentier: Messe à quatre choeurs (Ensemble Correspondances/Sebastian Daucé). Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902640.
The Italian works included avoid the elephant in the room, Monteverdi, in favour of less well-known but important composers, and the programme culminates with Charpentier’s stunning Mass for four choirs – if anything, excelling even the Italian composers represented. Monteverdi’s Mass for four choirs (1650) has been well recorded by The Sixteen (Coro COR16160), so its omission here is justifiable, but lovers of the music of this period should have a recording of it. I’ve alluded to the Coro in the past, but we seem not to have given it a proper review, so I downloaded it in 24/96 format, with pdf booklet, from thesixteenshop.com, where it’s also available on CD and in mp3, aac and alac.
I need hardly report that The Sixteen do full justice to the Mass and the other music from the 1650 collection on that album. The only reason to look elsewhere would be that you already had a very fine recording of Christmas music from Westminster Cathedral which includes all but the Kyries from this Mass (CDA67707 – review – Christmas 2009), or Volume 2 of the King’s Consort’s superb series of the sacred music of Monteverdi (CDA67438 CD and download, or SACDA67438 SACD – review).
Another Coro recording of Monteverdi includes the Cavalli Magnificat (COR16142 – DL News 2016/7), one of the works on the new recording. On the other hand, the new Harmonia Mundi seems to be the only available recording of any parts of Beretta’s Missa Mirabiles elationes maris and Cazzati’s Salve caput sacrosanctum.
The Hyperion replaced an older Erato recording of the Charpentier from la Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy and Jean-Claude Malgoire (no longer available) in my affections. The Hyperion booklet informs us of the connection between the French composer and his Italian influences, in particular the Beretta Mass, which survives in an annotated copy in Charpentier’s hand, and may be the work described as a sixteen-part which he reportedly composed in Rome ‘for mariners’. It’s one thing to have the Beretta described and to be told in the Hyperion notes that although ‘the two works are very different in their handling of the choirs … Charpentier’s interest in Beretta’s score underlines his interest and immersion in the Italian polychoral Mass tradition’. Now Daucé and his team give us the opportunity to judge the similarities and differences for ourselves. I wish that they could have given us the whole Beretta Mass, but the album is already well filled and the three sections on offer give us a fair enough idea.
It’s not just for the edification that the new recording caught my attention so forcibly. I rather fancy that Charpentier out-Italians the Italian composers in this very striking work. Listen to the Gloria immediately after the equivalent section of the Monteverdi and the whole is on an even grander scale. It’s not that Daucé fields a larger team, or that the recording is more immediate – both the Coro and the Harmonia Mundi come in very good 24/96 format – simply that the music outshines even Monteverdi in splendour. Even the Credo, typically a quieter, more contemplative part of any setting, sounds exuberant. Of course, the rather large instrumental accompaniment helps in that respect, though it never overwhelms the singers.
At the risk of being controversial, after listening to this new recording and re-hearing the Hyperion, I’m left with the feeling that this four-choir Mass is one of the glories of the sacred choral repertoire, worthy to be ranked ahead of the better-known Charpentier Messe de Minuit and Te Deum and not too far below the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, the Bach b-minor Mass, the Mozart Requiem and the Janáček Glagolitic Mass. It’s the grandest of his own works and the only seventeenth-century French polychoral Mass to survive, which is all the more reason to cherish it.
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Sub tuum praesidium (Antiphona sine organo ad Virginem) H.28 [2:18]
Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678)
Salve caput sacrosanctum (Motetti a otto voci, con il suo basso continuo, Op.52, Bologna, 1669) [2:54]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Sonata a 12 in d minor [3:49]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665)
Credidi propter quod (Concertato senza intonatione, basso & doi violini) (Il terzo libro delli salmi et messa concertati a tre et a quatro con istromenti & senza, salmi et messa concertati, Op. 18, Venezia, 1652) [4:12]
Francesco BERETTA (c.1640-1694)
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris : Kyrie [7:14]
Similabo eum viro sapienti [2:31]
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris : Et incarnatus est [1:45]
Missa Si Deus pro nobis : Crucifixus (1660) [1:45]
Missa Mirabiles elationes maris :
Agnus Dei [1:46]
Messe pour les trépassés H.2: Symphonie du Kyrie [1:30]
Messe à 4 chœurs H.4 (1671?) [28:52]
Domine salvum fac regem H.285 [1:35]
Isaac de Benserade (1613-1691), Jean de Cambefort (c.1605-1661), Antoine Boësset (1587-1643), Louis Constantin (1697-1779), Michel Lambert (1610-1696), Luigi Rossi (1597-1653), Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), Etienne Moulinié (1599 - 1676), Michel Lambert (1610 - 1696), Sébastien Le Camus (1610 - 1677), Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678), Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665), Francesco BERETTA (c.1640-1694), Giuseppe GIAMBERTI (ca. 1600-ca. 1663), Orazio BENEVOLI (1605-1672)
Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902603.06, Harmonia Mundi CD HAF 8905306, Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902640