Charpentier: Méditations pour le Carême

Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY056

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Charpentier’s cycle of Lenten meditations, some of which are dramatised biblical scenes, are preserved only in Sébastien de Brossard’s manuscript collection. Brossard himself described the music as ‘excellent’ and he wasn’t wrong! Charpentier’s melodic and contrapuntal skills are present in abundance, and are enriched by moments of harmonic asperity which still startle even post-Wagner ears.

The scoring is for male voice trio with continuo and I do admire the way in which the singers switch from dramatic characterisation to more ‘objective’ meditation and/or narration while maintaining the balance of the ensemble, phrase shapes and so on. I am less convinced by the approach to the continuo. I do not enjoy, nor do I think historically likely, the changing sonorities within a motet, still less omitting the continuo entirely even though the composer wrote the part. I also doubt the use of a harpsichord in sacred repertoire.

Also in the programme are two fine motets by Brossard and beautifully played instrumental pieces by de Visée and Marais, though over-fiddly continuo disposition distracts from the fine melodic line in the latter.

The booklet (French and English) covers all the bases.

David Hansell

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