Charpentier: Messe à quatre chœurs H4

CD cover Charpentier Mass for 4 choirs

+Hersant: Cantique des trois enfants dans la fournaise
Maîtrise de Radio France, Les Pages, les Chantres & les Symphonistes du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles directed by Olivier Schnebeli & Sofie Jeannin
64:27
radio france FRF066

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When, in 2004, I was compiling M-AC tercentenary programmes this splendid mass was at the top of the wish-list, perhaps with a sense of ‘now or never’. It is likely that, other than in his head, the composer himself never heard it: if he did, it would most certainly have been in an acoustic that gave the singers a bit more help than they get from this auditorium, which produces a dry, almost soul-less sound. This is particularly the case where louder dynamics and higher pitches are concerned. The conductor has embellished the score by doubling each choir with contrasting instruments (violins/viols/reeds/brass – Charpentier mentions only violons) though has also de-embellished it by using only one organ as opposed to the composer’s hoped-for quartet and omitting the requested organ versets. But we do get an elevation motet – the Ave verum corpus H233.

Overall this was a tough listen. Some of the soloists sound uncomfortable in the style, there are some laboured ornaments, and the vocal blend and intonation in the tutti sections are not consistently good.

Hersant’s Cantique of 2013/14 is for the same forces as the Charpentier and is in a ‘tonally enriched’ idiom. I enjoyed it, but details are beyond the scope of EMR.

The booklet is poor. The Latin texts are translated into French, though the various essays are in French and English; the French text of the Cantique is given, but if there is a translation I couldn’t find it; and the English, where used, is unidiomatic. Disappointing all-round.

David Hansell