Charpentier: Te Deum for 8 voices; Mass for 8 voices

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COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Charpentier
WORKS: Te Deum for 8 voices; Mass for 8 voices
PERFORMER: Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: GCDSA 921611

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When in Rome, do as the Romans. Charpentier certainly did when he came under the influence of Carissimi during the early to mid 1660s. While that influence can be sensed most directly, perhaps, in Charpentier’s dramatic motets or histoires sacrées, it is also present to a greater or lesser extent in many of his 12 Masses. Add to this ingredient the distinctive richness of his writing, the strength of his counterpoint and his sensibility to dissonance and chromaticism and you have a syntax of infinite subtlety, highly charged with expressive fervour. For beautiful examples, look no further than the ‘Et incarnatus’ and the ‘Confiteor’ of this sumptuous Mass for soloists, double choir and instruments.

This work and, indeed, the similarly scored Te Deum – one of four but not that which is prefaced by the celebrated Prelude with trumpet – which fills the remainder of the disc, have long been overlooked by record companies. So much the better, then, that a lacuna has been filled by performances of distinction. Hervé Niquet and his stylish group of musicians are no strangers to Charpentier’s music, but here they sound on exceptional form with evenly balanced vocal and instrumental ensembles and a rewardingly effective basso continuo whose resonances are faithfully and excitingly captured by Glossa’s superb recording.

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A recent version of the Mass by Hungarian musicians (Hungaraton HCD 32146) does some justice to the work but falls short of the present performance. Singers and players convey the contrasting emotions present in each work with spontaneous warmth and conviction, applying stylish ornaments with gracious ease and authority. Both pieces seem to have been written for the Jesuits in Paris, perhaps in the early 1670s. Scholarly and helpful notes with full texts are included. Strongly recommended. Nicholas Anderson