Gilles: Requiem; Beatus quem elegisti

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COMPOSERS: Gilles
LABELS: Accord
WORKS: Requiem; Beatus quem elegisti
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens (soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Hervé Lamy (tenor), Peter Harvey, Jean-Louis Paya (bass); Le Concert Spirituel Choir & Orchestra/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: 465 924-2 Reissue (1989)
Jean Gilles’s Requiem Mass is reputed to have been sung at his own funeral – he died in 1705 at the age of only 37 – following its rejection by its original commissioners, the offspring of important deceased city officials in Toulouse where the composer served as maître de choeur. Had he lived longer, who knows what more he might have achieved. This work is a direct and intensely expressive response to the text, with an elegance of line that places Gilles alongside Charpentier, Lully and the Couperins, and with a healthy disdain of gloom simply for gloom’s sake. Impressive moments abound, but one wonderful example is the opening of the Offertoire, at the words ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, where the soloists enter progressively from the bass register upwards in a passage of impressive solemn nobility, against commanding breadth in the string-writing. The other work, the extended motet Beatus quem elegisti, is quite different, created apparently to impress noble visitors and with an eye to securing a more prestigious job. It’s a shining, Italianate piece, exuberant in its variety of texture and colour and with a last movement that positively swings.

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These recordings, given by the then fledgling Le Concert Spirituel, were first released in 1989, with a cast of singers at the beginnings of their careers. All sing with panache under Hervé Niquet’s spirited direction, while the instrumental playing has an appealing, thoroughly Gallic poise and transparent quality that suits both works well. Stephen Pettitt