Bouteiller Requiem pour Voix d'Hommes

Sacred works from the turn of the 17th century, bound by convention

Author: 
Richard Lawrence

Bouteiller Requiem pour Voix d'Hommes

  • Missa pro defunctis
  • Stabat mater

The Requiem of Pierre Bouteiller, I’m sorry to say, put me in mind of Bernard Shaw’s comment about Brahms’s German Requiem, that it “is patiently borne only by the corpse”. Composed in 1693, during Bouteiller’s first stint as maître de chapelle at Troyes, it’s scored for a mixed choir of five voices and continuo. Taking a lead from the preface to a volume published around the time Bouteiller was born, Hervé Niquet has adapted the work for men’s voices, with four hautes-contres on the top line and two singers for each of the lower parts. He has also added single strings, which double the vocal lines.

That the writing is sombre is only to be expected, but Bouteiller’s Requiem is plain dull, passages of boring counterpoint varied by passages of equally boring homophony. What lends the performance some interest is Niquet’s reconstruction of a 17th-century service. The movements of the Requiem are interspersed with short pieces by Henri Frémart, Charpentier, Pierre Hugard and Louis Le Prince: all originally for voices, but played here very beautifully by the string group.

You have to look closely at the back of the cardboard container to see that there’s a second work on the disc. Sébastien de Brossard, compiler of the first French dictionary of music, was a canon of Meaux: where the mustard comes from, but also where the famous preacher Bossuet – to whom the Comte des Grieux ironically compares his son in Massenet’s Manon – was his bishop. Brossard’s Stabat mater, as conventional as Bouteiller’s Requiem, is redeemed by a vigorous final section, “Quando corpus morietur”. Good performances, but why did they bother?

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