PERFORMER: Anne Azema, Jean Nirouet, William Hite, Patrick Mason; Aix-en-Provence Festival Chorus, Ensemble Vocal Sagittarius, Boston Camerata/Joel Cohen
CATALOGUE NO: 2292-45989-2 DDD
Jean Gilles is that rarity in French Baroque music, the composer who flourished in the provinces and did not go to Paris. The reason in this particular case is that Gilles died at the age of 37 while still maître de chapelle at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Toulouse. On the evidence of the Requiem Mass, which is now receiving recognition after long years of neglect, Paris lost a major talent. This music does not quite have the character of Charpentier or Lalande, but there is much to delight the ear: try for starters the Sanctus, a model of devotional elegance.
This new performance under Joel Cohen has been well thought out. There are a number of additions to the basic musical text, written before 1705 though surviving in much later sources, all of which are convincing. Most fascinating of all is a rhythmic version of the plainsong ‘Dies irae’ based on contemporary Provençal prints. The performance does not always measure up to these good intentions. The choir and instrumentalists are, for the most part, excellent, but William Hite’s hard-sounding tenor, while stylish, can become enervating. The other soloists are more appealing, however, and the whole is a persuasive realisation of this important score. Jan Smaczny