Wednesday 30 November 2016

Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect: Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Kings Place

An engraving from the 1682 Almanach Royal thought to be Charpentier
Engraving from the 1682 Almanach Royal
thought to be Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Hymne à la Vierge Charpentier, Couperin, Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais, Robert de Visée; Eamonn Dougan and friends; Kings Place
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.5

The music of Charpentier the starting point for a concert of rare treats

"Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect". That was Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s motto, and hence (the penny dropped for me) it is fitting that the Prelude to his D major Te Deum was adopted as the anthem for the European Broadcasting Union, familiar to millions of Eurovision Song Contest viewers. At Kings Place on Saturday 26 November 2016, Eamonn Dougan directed choral and instrumental forces, including Rachel Podger, Jonathan Manson, Steven Devine, David Miller, Kati Debretzeni, Zoe Brookshaw, Charlotte Mobbs, Eleanor Minney, Nancy Cole, Hugo Hymas, Thomas Herford, Greg Skidmore and members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a programme of music by Charpentier, Couperin, Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais and Robert de Visée.

Diversity is certainly what characterises Charpentier’s output. Though he went to Italy to learn the family trade of master scribe, he also studied with Carissimi and came back to Paris three years later a job with patroness of the arts, Marie de Lorraine, duchess de Guise – luckily for him as those Italian influences he had absorbed might not have gone down so well at Versailles.

I was intrigued to know what the relationship was with the duchess, as the composer was treated as a courtier rather than as a servant (as he would have been at Versailles). But I was left to speculate.

Charpentier wrote a huge amount of work in a range of forms, sacred and secular. This programme, the last of Eamonn Dougan’s mini-festival of the French Baroque, explored Charpentier’s work alongside that of his near contemporaries Couperin, Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais and Robert de Visée. The concert was entitled "Hymne à la Vierge" and focused on work in praise of the Virgin Mary – on whom Charpentier focused much of his composing energy during a career lasting some 30 years.

The programme featured two substantial choral works: Pro omnibus festis BVM, (a dialogue between men and angels) and what Dougan considers the most perfect of his nine settings of the Litanies à la Vierge, as well as four Marian antiphons. The two-per-part choir sounded totally unanimous in their French pronunciation and each of them seemed to have a chance to sing one of those wonderful French final cadences. There was a great energy and focus to the sound, and the two tenors, Thomas Herford and the stratospheric haute contre Hugo Hymas, had some particularly virtuosic material that they navigated with poise.

Couperin’s trio sonata La Steinquerque was a robust piece with trumpets blaring (from the strings) and a slow, quiet ending that put a question mark on the victory it was written to celebrate. And three solos created a wonderful contrast, Robert de Visée’s hommage to Couperin and, above all, the two viola da gamba pieces by Sainte-Colombe and his pupil Marin Marais, stylish and mesmerising.

What was interesting was that the problems of balance I had been aware of the previous evening had magically disappeared. Whether this was due to a different style of playing and singing, or the fact that there were more warm bodies on stage, I couldn’t be sure. The lighting was used to good effect to help us focus on what was happening. This final concert of the festival was full of rare treats.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Ave Regina H. 45, Litanies a la Vierge H. 90, Pulchra es a3 H.52
François Couperin - Trio Sonata La Steinquerque
Charpentier - Regina Caeli H.46
Monsieur de Saint-Colombe - Les Pleurs
Charpentier - Pro omnibus festis BVM H.333
Charpentier - Alma Redemptoris H.44
Marin Marais - Pieces de viole, Livre III: Suite No. 7 in G, Allemande le Magnifique
Charpentier - Salve Regina H. 47
Robert de Visee - Prélude, Allemande, Les Sylvains de Mr Couperin, par Mr de Viseé
Charpentier - Litanies a la Vierge H.83

Eamonn Dougan – director
Rachel Podger – violin
Zoë Brookshaw – soprano
Charlotte Mobbs – soprano
Eleanor Minney – mezzo soprano
Nancy Cole – mezzo soprano
Hugo Hymas – tenor
Thomas Herford – tenor
Greg Skidmore – baritone
Members of the Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment
Jonathan Manson – viola da gamba
Steven Devine – organ & harpsichord
David Miller – theorbo
Kati Debretzeni – violin

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