Friday 23 August 2013

Motets pour la Maison de Guise

Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Litanies de la Vierge - Sebastien Dauce and Ensemble Correspondance - Harmonia Mundi HMC 902169
This new disc, the first release on Harmonia Mundi France by Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances, explores the music which Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote for Mademoiselle de Guise in whose employ he was for nearly 20 years. The richly textured six-part motets featured on the disc include Miserere H193, Annunciate superi H.333 and Litanies de la Vierge H.83.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - 1704) was born in or near Paris, son of a master scribe with connections to the Parlement de Paris. After a good education, Charpentier went to Rome for two or three years where he studied with Carissimi. On his return from Rome he went to work for Mademoiselle de Guise and stayed in her employ until his death, living at the Hotel de Guise in the rue de la Chaume (now the rue des Archives). She was the grand daughter of of Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, one of the organisers of the Catholic League, who was murdered in 1588 on the orders of King Henri III. Henri de Lorraine's son Charles de Lorraine was forced into exile, and his daughter formed her musical tastes listening to music at the court of the Medici in Florence. Luckily for Charpentier, Marie de Lorraine preserved her taste for the Italian style of music and so was presumably sympathetic to the Italian style which Charpentier's music betrayed.

In the mid-1680's Mlle de Guise expanded her musical establishment to include 15 members and it is from this period that the motets on this disc date. The singers were not professionals, but domestic servants employed for their talents. For example Jacqueline-Genevieve de Brion, femme de chambre ordinairement avec la musique, sang the dessus line. Charpentier sang the haut-contre part and the manuscripts survive, in Charpentier's hand.

Charpentier was writing for the singers that were available, so that he wrote for six voice parts plus two treble instruments and basso continuo, a disposition which was unusual at the time.  In his note in the CD booklet, Sebastien Dauce explains that Charpentier's markings for the vocal forces are very precise, so that they have been able to deduce that he performed the music with eight singers, which does give scope for allocating different voices to the solo passages.

Regarding the instrumentation, Daucé has taken inspiration from the fact that when Charpentier was reviving or re-using works he re-adapted it, so that Daucé as orchestrated the pieces for his own ensemble of two violins, two recorders and continuo.

The disc opens with Charpentier's Miserere, H 193 setting the penitential psalm 50 (51). The motet was probably sung during Holy Week in 1685. Charpentier later revised the work in the 1690's for the Jesuits and this later version has become known as the Miserere des Jesuites. Charpentier's attitude to his forces is very flexible, varying from solos, duets and trios to sections for two choirs. The opening section is constructed as a single triple-part movement with the prelude, the recit and the chorus all based on the same material.

This is followed by the Antienne H526, an instrumental piece. Both this and the Ouverture H536, also included on the disc, were written specifically for religious use, something of a rarity at the time.

The motet Annunciate superi H333 Pro omnibus festis BVM (for any feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary) dates from around 1683-84. It is sets an anonymous text which takes the form of a dialogue between heaven and earth in which consideration of the wonders of God's kingdom leads to glorification of the Virgin.

The final item on the disc is Litanies de la Vierge H83. In fact, Charpentier set the Litany of the Blessed Virgin nine times in all. This version, for six voices dates from 1681-82 and the booklet note describes it as the most developed of all Charpentier's settings. The piece alternates between a trio of dessus, three male voices and the full vocal ensemble.

This is gloriously rich and elegant music given superb performances by Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances. By using a small number of performers, Daucé gives the pieces an intimate feel whilst preserving the music's richness and depth of expression. All concerned seem to take the music to heart, so that the style and the ornamentation flow naturally and, of course, pronunciation is done the French way. The result is stylish and elegant, but profoundly expressive as well. The result brings out the style and elegance of the music, but is profoundly expressive as well, highlighting the intense fervour of the music.

These are long pieces, the Miserere lasts 25 minutes, and Daucé's control of the ebb and flow of the music is exemplary, and the group seems to have been performing the music for ever.

Charpentier's period with Mlle de Guise is perhaps best known for his operatic works; working privately for such a powerful employer enable him to bypass Lully's monopoly on the operatic genre. But Daucé shows us that the smaller scale riches to be derived from this period as well.

The CD booklet contains a fine article on Charpentier and la Maison de Guise, plus an article by Daucé explaining the rationale behind his performances. My only complaint is that, though the booklet includes full text and translations, nowhere is it broken down so that it is not possible to work our who is singing when.

This is one of those discs that I will come back to again and again. Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances seem to capture perfectly the essence of this music and I cannot recommend the disc highly enough and I certainly hope that we hear more of them in this music.

Litanies de la Vierge - Motets pour la Maison de Guise
Miserere H.193 [25.12]
Antienne H.526 [2.38]
Annunciate superi H.333 [10.37]
Ouverture H.536 [5.30]
Litanies de la Vierge H.83 [16.33]

Ensemble Correspondances (Caroline Wynants - dessus1, Violaine le Chenadec - dessus 1, Caroline Dangin-Bardot - dessus 2, Lucile Richardo - bas-dessus, Stephen Collardelle - haute-contre, Davy Cornillot - taille, Etienne Bazola - basse-taille, Nicolas Brooymans - basse, Beatrice Linon - violon, Alice Julien-Laferriere - violin, Lucile Perret - flute, Matthieu Bertaud - flute, Myriam Rignol - basse de viole, Julien Hainsworth - basse de violon, Diego Salamanca - theorbe)
Sébastien Daucé (clavecin, orgue & direction)

Recorded January 2013, Greonble MC2
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902169 1CD [60.33]

Motets pour la Maison de Guise - Marc-Antoine Charpentier; Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances; HMC 902169
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 23 2013
Rating: 4.0

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