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COMPOSERS: Delalande/Lemaire/Morin
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Petits motets; Assumpta est Maria; Regina coeli
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens, Sandrine Piau, Noémi Rime, Arlette Steyer; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Delalande wrote some of the handsomest church music of the Baroque era. His contribution to the French Baroque, away from the oppressive influence of Lully, is well known to any who care about this period, but his achievement, which manages a distinctive individuality without recourse to excessive Italianisms, demands wider attention. If Delalande did not attempt the harmonic audacity of his less royally connected contemporary, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, he was a first-rate melodist and possessed a sense of proportion and harmonic direction which makes this collection of Petits motets – works designed for more private meditation at Mass – a constant joy for the listener. While not all of these small-scale works are presented in their original form – two are arrangements of Grands motets – they make a handsome collection. Delalande’s work also sits well, by comparison, next to the efforts of Lemaire and Morin, both of whom entertain in a more consciously Italianate manner. The vocal soloists of Les Arts Florissants provide graceful, characterful singing, fearless in providing a hard edge where necessary. There could have been a deal more fine tuning in the ensemble of the plainchant versets of the Miserere, but this is a passing complaint, as is the presence of, on occasion, a slightly obtrusive organ continuo. Unless you are deeply committed to private devotion, serial listening is not the best approach to this CD, but an extended dip is heartily recommended. Jan Smaczny