« Estimable new project from Ensemble Correspondances. » Paul-James DWYER

« William Christie and Les Arts Florissants launched Charpentier’s modern popularity, almost fourty years ago, in 1978. Christie must be credited with raising the shade of Marc-Antoine out of near total obscurity. Charpentier now competes with Lully, for the title of greatest French composer of the second of half of the 17th century. This idea in his own day, would never have been thought possible even to consider. 

However, time has moved on and this new recording represents not only a new generation of artists recording the composers works, but a newer and lighter approach that makes older recordings of the 70’s and 80’s sound heavy-handed and dated. Many of these Charpentier CDs now sound like an 18th century orchestra tackling the masters compositions. Applying large orchestral forces smothers the subtlety of many of Charpentier’s smaller compositions. We are not talking about his Te Deum or the masses written for larger forces here, but small sacred works for the religious observance by one of the richest and greatest aristocratic houses of 16th-17th century France. Mlle de Guise’s musicians and singers came from her own household, which employed 400 odd people. Charpentier had his own apartment in her Paris home and the musical forces or equipe came from the kitchen, stable, her personal servants, administration staff etc. of the de Guise Hôtel..
Though Mlle de Guise, Charpentier’s patron had the second largest musical establishment in France, at the time after the king himself, these works were for her own household and not a court, therefore on an intimate scale. She did not even have an ongoing salon open to the nobles, artists or poets, but lived privately, as her family were considered suspect by the crown for various political reasons, dating back a hundred years. So these works were not experienced on any public concert basis but for private spiritual edification, practice and celebration of church calendar feasts.
Daucé and his group have specialized in the entire period of 17th century French sacred music and are really cornering this forgotten territory that is filled with forgotten masterworks. They already have numerous Charpentier CD’s on the market that are absolutely marvelous. Daucé has also done extensive research in the past, on Charpentier which gives him impeccable credentials when it comes to co-authoring the four page essay with Catherine Cessac. Cessac is considered the leading Charpentier scholar in the world, having made the master her own life’s work. Her book Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Fayard, 2nd Edition, 2004) has sold widely, unfortunately it has never been translated into English.
This recording explores the numerous Pastorales Charpentier composed Pastorale sur la Naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, Premier version, H.483 (Overture and 6 Scenes, 22 movements), Pastorale 2e partie, seconde version, H483a (8 m.), Pastorale 2e partie, troisième version, H. 483b (4 m.) plus another Advent tradition, Grandes Antiennes O de l’Avent (10 m.). All the texts are in French not Latin, the author is unknown. The Pastorales are “…constructed as a sort of colourful large-scale sermon…Each Christmas for at least three years, 1664 to 1686, Charpentier offered Mlle de Guise a pastorale performed by the musicians of the Hôtel.”, writes Daucé and Cessac. Daucé uses a six-part vocal group, just as Charpentier utilized for Mlle de Guise, originally. Again I quote the essay “…as a result six-part vocal textures became something of a signature for him.” Research has continued on the original singers, in an effort to reproduce as much as possible the original performances. For a perusal of this estimable new project from Ensemble Correspondances see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOhNB3Sl9Rc« 

© Paul-James DWYER December, 2016
For Toronto Early Music Centre News

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