Desmarest: Grands motets Lorrains

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Desmarest
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Grands motets Lorrains
PERFORMER: Sophie Daneman, Rebecca Ockenden (soprano), Paul Agnew (tenor), Laurent Slaars, Arnaud Marzorati; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-80223-2
Henry Desmarest was one of Lully’s most gifted pupils; but his close association with Louis XIV’s court at Versailles came to an abrupt end in 1699 when amorous goings-on with one of his pupils forced him, and her, into exile. It was all so terribly unfair, really, since not only had Desmarest’s wife died before the affair began, but he subsequently married his student, anyway, two years later. After five years or so in Madrid, Desmarest returned to the Duchy of Lorraine where he remained until his pardon was granted in 1720.

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This new recording by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants features three of four psalm settings which Desmarest composed for the Duke of Lorraine’s chapel at Lunéville in 1707. Set in the grand motet manner for soloists, choir and instruments, they are splendid pieces, containing in their well-sustained multi-sectional diversity all the musical interest and nobility of gesture which we readily acknowledge in the better-known examples by Desmarest’s contemporary, Lalande. Christie’s musicians are in particularly fine form, injecting the choral textures with supple rhythmic vigour and declaiming the solos and smaller vocal ensembles with clarity and expressive warmth. Just occasionally I noticed little insecurities in the upper string playing – one of them occurs in the ‘Qui dat nivem sicut’ of the Lauda Jerusalem. The solo vocalists, of whom only soprano Sophie Daneman and tenor Paul Agnew were known to me, are generally first rate. All-in-all, a rewarding issue, musically and in respect of performance style. Nicholas Anderson