Charpentier: Méditations pour le Carême

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COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Charpentier
WORKS: Méditations pour le Carême
PERFORMER: Ensemble Pierre Robert/Frédéric Desenclos
CATALOGUE NO: 91
Charpentier’s Méditations pour le Carême consist of ten vignettes in the form of petits motets reflecting upon aspects or events connected with Christ’s Passion. They are scored for three male voices with basso continuo and demonstrate Charpentier’s considerable resourcefulness in achieving expressive variety within the limits imposed by his restricted means.

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Only two complete recordings of these Latin Lenten Meditations precede this new issue. One of them, recorded in the early 1960s but never reissued on CD, gave a poor account of these intimate, often fervent pieces. The other, by members of Les Arts Florissants directed by William Christie, was issued 20 years ago (Harmonia Mundi) with one of Charpentier’s best known sacred vocal works, Le reniement de St Pierre. Christie has been a trail blazer for Charpentier’s music for a quarter of a century, but much water has flowed under the bridge since his early Charpentier discs and the present release with Ensemble Pierre Robert comes over with greater stylistic assurance than the older version. Here, the voices blend more sweetly, the tonal focus is sharper and the dynamic more affecting. It almost goes without saying in the music of this composer that there are passages of telling pathos and emotional tenderness. Charpentier generally holds in reserve the most touching and harmonically bold of them until the closing moments of each motet. There are also several dramatically charged scenes such as those which take place when Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate.

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The remaining items on the disc feature four further vocal pieces by Charpentier, one of them an ardent and attractive Easter motet, interspersed with organ music by Charpentier’s contemporaries Nicolas de Grigny and Nicolas Lebègue. Nicholas Anderson