Tuesday 29 January 2019

Requiem Masses for murdered royalty

Execution of Queen Marie Antoinette
Execution of Queen Marie Antoinette
Tristia: Requiems for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette Plantade, Cherubini; Le Concert Spirituel Choir and Orchestra, Hervé Niquet; Barbican Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 25 January 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Masses in memory of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, one familiar, the other less so

On Friday 25 January, in the Barbican Hall, Le Concert Spirituel and its founder Hervé Niquet presented the post-revolutionary Requiems in memory of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, who were executed in 1793. In the relative peace of 1815, their remains, or what was purported to be, were reinterred in the Bourbon crypt at Saint-Denis by command of Louis XVIII. For the occasion Cherubini’s C minor Requiem for the King was performed. The Plantade Requiem for Marie Antoinette was not heard until 1823 at a ceremony in Paris to mark the 30th anniversary of the Queen’s execution.

The concert began with Plantade’s Requiem in D minor, in memory of Marie Antionette. The Plantade is a work I’ve never heard or have any knowledge of. Niquet has previously observed that “Plantade wrote a work brimming over with emotion…but also of ineffable gentleness” and it’s hard to disagree. From the brooding undercurrents of an opening terrifyingly shattered by the tam-tam through the fire and brimstone brass of the 'Dies Irae' to the downright weirdness of the plaintive horn, a painful cry that is quite shocking. It’s a fascinating piece, a bridge between the two musical worlds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The filling of this Requiem sandwich was Berlioz’s dynamically rich and beautifully played Tristia. Bringing up the rear was the real crowd pleaser Cherubini’s Requiem for Louis XVI. This was powerful stuff – a ceremonial barnstormer given a suitably theatrical performance by Le Concert Spirituel. I thought Hervé Niquet would take off, his energy and enthusiasm were so infectious.

Unusually, neither piece uses soloists, they are carried by the choir and orchestra which is where I have a wee gripe. To begin, the style of pronunciation took some getting used to. I’m sure there’s a good reason for the modification of some vowel sounds but unfortunately that didn’t make them any the less jarring to my Anglo-Saxon ears, and I couldn’t find an explanation as to why such a creative judgement had been taken.

The genuine mystery was the decision to split the choir down stage, placing them perpendicular to the audience. Stationing tenor and bass down stage right and soprano and alto down stage left meant that sitting on the left of a fan shaped auditorium I had the unprepossessing view of the back of men’s heads. The beautiful vocal texture was all but lost to me, delivering a mere breath of tenor in a hurricane of soprano. Inevitably this coloured my enjoyment. Such a pity as this was a dramatic and elegant concert delivered with considerable artistry and panache.

Cherubini & Plantade: Requiems pour Louis XVi et Marie-Antoinette - Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet - Available from Amazon

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • In transcription: Berlioz arranged Liszt and Richard Strauss arranged Willner at Conway Hall (★★★★)  - concert review
  • A powerful journey: Sir Colin Davis complete live Berlioz recordings on LSO Live  - CD review
  • Faure's Requiem from the Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan School (★★★) - CD review
  • Something of a discovery: Reverie, Icelandic art songs (★★★★) - CD review
  • Hugh Levick - Remnants of Symmetry (★★★★) - CD review
  • Everybody can! Nadine Benjamin's debut in Tosca (★★★★) - opera review
  • The main thing is to sing well and be a good performer: I chat to soprano Chiara Skerath, associate artist with The Mozartists and Classical Opera - interview 
  • Perhaps a film manqué: Stefan Herheim's Queen of Spades at Covent Garden (★★½) - opera review
  • Lux: A trio of striking works to celebrate the Norwegian girls' choir's 25th anniversary (★★★★) - CD review
  • Early and late: Schumann from Robin Tritschler & Graham Johnson at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Stories in music: Roses, Lilies & Other Flowers from The Telling (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bach in Cologne: Christmas Oratorio performed in the Kölner Philharmonie (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Finding an identity in classical music: composer Shirley Thompson on her career and recent projects - interview
  • Unwrapping Venus: the music of Barbara Strozzi at Kings Place (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Oper Köln delivers a colourful account of Ralph Benatsky? & Robert Stolz’ The White Horse Inn (★★★★) - operetta review 
  • Home

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