Wednesday 2 March 2022

Elan and style: Grands Motets by Michel-Richard De Lalande from Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances

Michel-Richard De Lalande Dies Irae, Miserere, Veni creator; Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé; Harmonia Mundi

Michel-Richard De Lalande Dies Irae, Miserere, Veni creator; Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé; Harmonia Mundi

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 March 2022 Star rating: 5.0 (
With this disc of three of De Lalande's Grands Motets, all recorded in their early versions, we are immediately transported to the sound-world of the Grand Siècle

The music and the sound-world on this disc are extremely redolent. Start playing it and you are immediately whisked back to the chapel of the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. On Harmonia MundiSébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances have recorded three of the Grands Motets by Michel-Richard De Lalande, Dies Irae, Miserere and Veni Creator.

The Grand Motet was a large-scale choral composition in which two bodies of musicians at court (singers and instrumentalists) came together so that the Grand Motet was usually for soloists, double choir and instrumentalists. The form brought together the sense of grandeur and spirituality, in a very distinctive sound-world. 

Michel-Richard De Lalande was something of a musical meteor at court and was dubbed the Latin Lully, for the way that he acquired all the posts relating to sacred music and more, just as Lully gained the monopoly in opera. Initially De Lalande was simply one of a group of composers and King Louis planned to have them in rotation, but De Lalande eventually became not only the sole Sous-maître de la Chapelle (responsible for writing the music for the chapel choir), but also Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre, responsible for writing the instrumental music that accompanied the King's life. And some of De Lalande's best known compositions are in this genre, his Symphonies pour les Soupers du roi.

But De Lalande also left some 70 Grands Motets, and he wrote them throughout his compositional life at court, effective defining what the genre would come to be. Here we have just three, all dating from the early years of his compositional reign, Veni creator (1684), Miserere (1687) and Dies Irae (1690). And it perhaps gives an indication of this type of setting for large scale psalm or canticle, that when De Lalande died he left no mass setting, and someone else's Requiem had to be performed. Music at court was all very performative, these large scale musical statements.

Each has a sequence of short movements (there are 37 tracks on the disc) and De Lalande moves between ensemble, solo, recitative and chorus. No single movement lasts long, but De Lalande's skill is in creating a satisfying whole, the music is challenging yet flows as a whole. This is a richly coloured musical world, De Lalande gave increased prominence to the orchestra with both chorus and orchestra based around a five-part texture with strong inner parts. For those of us brought up on Handel's music, where the composer favoured strong top lines and bass with relatively light inner parts, this is a significantly rich sound world. It is sumptuous, even, and clearly was intended to reflect the spirit of the age, the performative combination of visible faith and grandeur in the name of God.

The motets chosen here were all written originally for major occasions. The Veni creator was not only sung at Pentecost services, but used in the ceremonies of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, of which the King was Grand Maître as well as at dynastic ceremonies such as baptisms and coronations. The Miserere was of course sung during Holy Week, including in the great service of Tenebrae. Whilst De Lalande's Dies Irae was written the funeral at Saint-Denis on 5 May 1690 of the Dauphine Marie-Anne-Christine of Bavaria. Composed in the short time between the death of the princess and her funeral, the motet used at other royal or princely funerals, of which there were many at the end of Louis XIV’s reign, and it is very likely that it was used at Louis XIV's funeral in 1715.

But the same versions of the motets were not used each time, De Lalande was a great tinkerer and reviser. But on this disc, we hear the Miserere and Veni Creator in versions from a collection copied in 1689 and 1690 by François Fossard and André Danican Philidor, keepers of the King’s Music Library. The Dies Irae is presented with specially reconstructed instrumental parts in its original version. The result gives us a chance to experience the way the composer was experimenting with the form, and using great imagination to create music that was satisfying but also fitted the complex requirements of the King and his court.

The performances on this disc are very fine indeed, it is clear that singers and performers understand the style and are able to perform freely in it. This is important, their is a freedom and fluidity to these performances, as the various elements the solos, the ensembles, the chorus, the orchestral each have a distinct presence yet join together to create a whole. The result is very seductive indeed. 

Whilst the music perhaps lacks, to our ears, that demonstrative, romantic element that we associate with these great texts, there is no doubting the seriousness of the music and the way De Lalande explores the various elements of the texts, line by line. But beyond this, the élan and style that Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances bring to the music means that from the first notes, we are transported to the Grand Siècle.

Michel-Richard De Lalande (1657-1726) - Dies Irae (1690)
Michel-Richard De Lalande - Quatuor (1713)
Michel-Richard De Lalande - Miserere (1687)
Michel-Richard De Lalande - Veni creator (1684)
Ensemble Correspondances 
Sébastien Daucé (conductor)
Recorded February 2021, Arsenal de Metz, France

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