It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)
Beata es Maria is made up primarily of vocal music in praise of the Virgin that features three men's voices, a counter tenor, tenor, and bass. It's an especially attractive ensemble, and Charpentier, who is known to have sometimes sung the tenor parts, knew how to make the vocal lines terrifically appealing. The Magnificat that opens the album beautifully illustrates his skill in taking a much-used convention the chaconne, with a harmonic progression that (the composer reports) repeats 89 times and keeping it endlessly intriguing with his inventive handling of the voices.
With four recordings in six months, this seems to be open season for the Poulenc motets. The newcomers are up against stiff competition, and don't emerge unscathed from comparison either with the college next door (under Marlow on Conifer) or with the choir under the musical director of the one further along the road (Rutter on Collegium/Gamut).
Based on a program presented at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2011, this recording, made in a German radio studio in 2013, offers a pair of little-known short operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. One of the two, La descente d'Orphee aux enfers (not to be confused with a similarly titled cantata), either was left unfinished or has been partially lost; it is missing a finale and resolution to the plot.
It would not, perhaps, be too much of a stretch to think of Marc-Antoine Charpentier as a sort of late 17th century Poulenc. Poulenc is known for two distinct artistic faces, one a comedian of the zaniest sort, and the other capable of expressing the most profound emotional depth. Charpentier's work lay in almost complete obscurity for nearly two centuries when in the late 20 century it began being brought to light, revealing one of the most fertile and inventive musical minds of the Baroque. He has been known almost exclusively for his religious music, and particularly for his gift for expressing the darkest grief.
harpentier’s Médée is one of the glories of the Baroque. Medea’s betrayal by Jason, her comprehensive revenge and the plight of those caught up in this epic tragedy prompted Charpentier to compose music of devastating power. Transcending the constraints of the Lullian tragédie lyrique, he produced characterisations of astonishing complexity and invested vast stretches of music with a dramatic pace and a harmonic richness rivalled among contemporaries only by Purcell. The electrifying exchanges of the third act, mingling pathos with extreme violence, alone put Charpentier on the same imaginative level as Rameau and Berlioz. The machinations of the fourth act and the dénouement in the fifth maintain the same captivating impetus.
This is an attractive programme of comparatively rare vocal repertoire. Airs de cour by Charpentier (including verses from Corneille’s Le Cid) and Lambert are interpersed with instrumental movements from Couperin’s Les Nations. Cyril Auvity is an experienced advocate of the haute-contre repertoire and draws on all that experience to engage fully with the texts of these miniature dramas. His tone in the higher register can verge on the harsh, though this is a rare event.