Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (c. 1643-1704)
Conserva me, Domine (Psalm 15), H. 230 [13:30]
Caecilia virgo et martyr, H. 397 [34:31]
De profundis clamavi (Psalm 129), H. 189 [24:20]
Choir of New College Oxford,
Oxford Baroque/Edward Higginbottom (director)
rec. 10-11 July 2012, 11 February 2013, Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford, UK
Full Latin texts and English translations are provided in the booklet
NOVUM NCR 1387 [72:30]
Experience has shown that any release from the Choir of New College Oxford directed by Edward Higginbottom is worthy of considerable attention. I was bowled over by the choir's disc of François Couperin motets titled Exultent Superi. I made it one of my Recordings of the Year for 2012. Earlier this year the release The Sacred Choral Music of Benjamin Britten maintained the choir's standard of excellence. Now the choir has returned to the French baroque for the rarely encountered sacred music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier; a contemporary of François Couperin (1668-1733).
Charpentier was prolific and wrote in a number of genres. A check of his work list and the record catalogue shows sacred choral music dominating his output. The booklet notes to this Novum release highlight the crucial part that the Roman Catholic Church played in Charpentier’s career especially writing sacred music for the monastic communities in Paris notably the Carmelite, Benedictine and Cistercian nuns. His later association as master of music to the Jesuit Order was remarkably productive. Subsequently Charpentier served as director of music at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris until his death in 1704.
Director of music Edward Higginbottom has here selected three substantial Musique sacrée scores stemming from different time periods in Charpentier’s life. In groupings of various combinations these use the established five-part French scoring of treble (dessus), alto (haute-contre), tenor (taille), baritone (basse-taille) and bass (basse).
The first work on the disc is the motet Conserva me, Domine, H. 230 a setting of Psalm 15 from 1699. It’s a splendid example of Charpentier’s mature style during his time at La Sainte-Chapelle. I especially enjoyed the blending of contrasting voice types in the opening verse Dominus, pars hereditatis meae: tenor Oliver Longland, alto David Lee and bass James Geidt. The trebles shining through the entry of the chorus at 2:07 was a particular highlight.
Charpentier wrote around thirty-five Latin oratorios and Caecilia virgo et martyr, H. 397 is one of four with the same name and essentially using the same text.
Dating from the period 1677/78 this is a substantial dramatic score, lasting over thirty-five minutes, cast in two parts each with an instrumental prelude. The Latin libretto by an unknown author is a rather decorated narrative of the martyrdom of Saint Cecilia. Charpentier deploys “dramatic dialogue” by the characters soprano Robyn Allegra Parton as the Roman noblewomen Caecilia, bass Oliver Longland as nobleman Valerianus, tenor Guy Cutting as his brother Tiburtius and bass Patrick Edmond as the tyrant Almachius. Cutting and Lee take the part of the two narrators with four trebles Inigo Jones, Tom Warner, Michael Alchin and Christopher Beswick making up the Chorus Angelorum. What a marvellous choice guest soprano Robyn Allegra Parton is as Caecilia. She sings with real clarity and a beautiful smooth tone yet manages to convey both piety and vulnerability. Also worthy of special praise is the refreshing radiance of the trebles of the Chorus Angelorum.
Charpentier made seven settings of the text De profundis clamavi (Psalm 129) writing H. 189 in 1683. It seems this grand motet was used at one of the memorial ceremonies held in 1683 following the death of Queen Maria Theresa, the first wife of the Bourbon monarch King Louis XIV. A substantial work lasting over twenty-four minutes, it commences with a rather melancholic orchestral prelude. This performance boasts lovely blended choral singing but it is the fresh-voiced trebles Michael Alchin and Inigo Jones who impress with their disarming purity.
With masterly direction Edward Higginbottom draws a remarkable range of tone colour from his Choir with the voices blending quite gloriously and to compelling reverential effect. Since the François Couperin release the group of trebles may have lost the outstanding voice of Jonty Ward but their quality of vocal character remains strong. Praise too is due to the players of the Oxford Baroque for their unfailing support. Recorded at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford the Novum engineers are to be congratulated for first class sound quality: crisp, clear and well balanced. Higginbottom’s booklet notes are as comprehensive as one has come to expect complete with full Latin texts and English translations.
Stunningly performed by an immaculately prepared choir this Novum release is of the highest quality and deserves particular praise.