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Michel-Richard DE LALANDE (1657-1726) Choral Music for Versailles - Three Grand Motets
Regina coeli S53 1698 [8:42]
De profundis S23 1689 [22:01]
Cantate Domino … quia mirabilia S72 1707 [25:59]
Ex Cathedra Chamber Choir
Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra/Jeffrey Skidmore
rec. n/d, St Paul's Church, Birmingham, England. DDD
ALTO ALC 1216 [56:04]


 
Here's a lively, energetic and utterly enjoyable CD. Originally issued on - or at least as part of - ASV Gaudeamus (CDGAU150) in 1995 or thereabouts, this is a collection of three sacred choral works by Michel-Richard de Lalande who worked for Louis XIV and XV at Versailles from the time the French court moved there from Paris itself in 1683.
 
They're all lively, sprightly - yet substantial - compositions with Latin texts: motets for use in the daily religious services at the Court. The Easter Antiphon, Regina coeli [trs. 1-4], makes something of an extrovert opening for the CD, which does not, however, attempt to recreate or stage any one event.
 
In that Lalande represents the apogee of French Baroque sacred choral work, the disc contains a good selection of his work - otherwise unavailable - apart from a recording by Deller of the De profundis on Vanguard 8108. Both the latter [trs. 5-13] and Cantate Domino … quia mirabilia [trs. 14-21] are stimulating compositions that will elicit delight. They're amongst Lalande's best. Full of varied instrumental colour, plangent and joyous tonalities, they exude movement and energy, and are directed purposefully to the liturgical ends to which they belong.
 
None of the three works here is in any way monolithic or unapproachably bland. For all that their sonic compass is precise and tethered to an idiom which came and went relatively quickly in the course of the evolution of this corner of the Baroque, there is breadth, depth and much feeling in Lalande's choral, solo and instrumental writing. Skidmore and his forces are completely at home and in tune with this world. They obviously love the tenor and substance of Lalande's marriage of text and music; and make the most of it in their careful yet unstudied delivery.
 
At the same time the singing and playing allude to the universality of the appeals which the music makes - to sorrow, regret, a sense of doom, lament and elation. Yet at the same time there’s a confidence that comes from knowing how far the poignancy and uplift of the music itself can counter the pure feelings: balm, equilibrium, hope. The final 'Requiem aeternam' [tr. 13] movement of the De profundis is a splendid example. It's as generous in feeling and expression as anything else on this wonderful CD.
 
Similarly, the Cantate Domino is unwavering in expressing respect, joy and hope from happiness and devotion, not loss. Here too the playing is light of touch, yet misses no opportunity to underline the texts in all their reach. It's never superficial playing yet is equally unlaboured.
 
The members of Ex Cathedra Chamber Choir sing with a "weak" French Latin pronunciation. They also evince a precision and projection that makes the text easy to follow; and hence easy to relate to. Nothing is over-florid or unnecessarily elaborate. At the same time, expression and a sense of how the music was used in those particular circumstances are nicely blended with its longer-lasting communicative virtues.
 
The acoustic of the CD is a little on the dry side, although it manages to retain the sense that this is music made for the more spacious environments of Versailles. Indeed, the sound-world may enhance the already pleasingly clear diction of the singers.
 
The booklet contains brief background and the outline texts in Latin and English. Lalande ought to be better known than he is. If you want to spread the word, or just respond to his wonderful senses of pace, emotivity and technical brilliance both orchestrally and textually, this is a very good CD to help.
 

Mark Sealey