Charpentier; Couperin; Roberday - Choral Works
It is rare for a musicologist to be honoured with a recorded memorial. Jean Lionnet, one of the guiding lights of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, had been closely involved in the preparation of the funeral music by Charpentier performed on this CD before his untimely death in 1998. The prince in the title of the recording (‘Messe en la memoire d’un prince’) may be taken to refer equally to the last scion of the Guise family, for whom Charpentier worked at the time, and now, as a mark of the respect and affection in which he was held by his colleagues, to Jean Lionnet.
The recording is the product of a close and fruitful collaboration between scholars (who also included Jean Duron and Catherine Cessac) and performers, in this case, the Ensemble La Fenice and the Choeur de Chambre de Namur, under Jean Tubery. Together they have given us a deeply moving requiem service that reflects the latest thinking in period style (with the possible exception of the use of female sopranos) and without a hint of stuffiness. Au contraire, the performances are simple and dignified, which is exactly what Mlle de Guise would have ordered for her nephew, like a rather exquisite string of pearls.
Appearances, of course, are deceptive (for example, track 7). The succession of musical forms, textures, instruments and voices is breathtaking and complex (track 14). Charpentier created individual musical-architectural structures to enhance the individual lines of the Latin texts (performed here with a period accent), exploiting seemingly endless combinations of voices (apparently eight) and instruments (cornetts, recorders, violins, cello or bass viol, serpent, bassoon, lute, harpsichord and organ). And to complete the sense of a religious occasion, church bells are rung at the beginning and organ music by Charpentier’s distinguished contemporaries, Louis Couperin and Francois Roberday has been interleaved. The performances suit the notional occasion, and so while – appropriately – no one voice stands out among the solo singers, as a choir they produce strong clean lines, consistently in tune despite the challenge posed by the unusual period temperament of the organ. The finely tuned continuo instrumentation (tracks 12 and 14 ) and the added ornamentation (especially in the violin parts of, for example, tracks 5, 18 and 21) are stunning refinements worthy of a jeweller.'