Charpentier: Transfige dulcissime Jesu; Extremum Dei judicium; Le reniement de St Pierre

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COMPOSERS: Charpentier
WORKS: Transfige dulcissime Jesu; Extremum Dei judicium; Le reniement de St Pierre
PERFORMER: Ensemble Européen William Byrd/ Graham O’Reilly
Graham O’Reilly’s helpful notes justify convincingly the one-to-a-part performance of this selection of Charpentier’s sacred music. Some is strongly influenced by later 17th-century Italian theatrical music – Extremum Dei judicium and Le reniement de St Pierre are oratorios with solo characters and chorus. The violent text describing the Last Judgement generates vividly expressive choral singing; Peter’s ‘Denial’ ends with 30 bars of weeping in unparalleled despair. The singing is superb throughout, and the recording reflects the immediacy of the dramatic music while bathing the reflective motets in a richly enveloping sound, helped by the generous acoustic of the bare Abbey at Fontmorigny in France. A high point is an exquisite Salve regina for three choirs, introduced by a bleak organ solo, followed by voices building up to excruciatingly dissonant ‘cries and mourning’ in ‘this vale of tears’. Subtle touches create lovely sonorities: a tenor rather than bass sings the ‘basse chantant’ in a Litany with two upper voices, lightening the density and clarifying the texture. Authentic French pronunciation of the Latin texts provides a distinctive timbral quality while the continuo forces balance warmth of sustained chamber organ with rhythmic impulsion plucked from a theorbo. A disc to treasure, all the more so as much of the music here isn’t otherwise currently available. George Pratt