musica Dei donum

CD reviews

André CAMPRA (1660 - 1744): Messe de Requiem

Marie Perbost, Emanuelle Ifrah, dessus; Samuel Boden, haute-contre; Zachary Wilder, tenor; Victor Sicard, basse-taille
Le Concert d'Astrée
Dir: Emanuelle Haïm

rec: Nov 20, 2019 (live), Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Erato - 5419750468 (© 2023) (88'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Campra
Score Mondonville
Score Rameau

Messe de Requiem; Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de MONDONVILLE (1711-1772): In exitu Israel; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): In convertendo

Elizabeth Baz, Cécile Dalmon, Cécile Granger, Emmanuelle Ifrah, Dorothée Leclair, Lucy Page, Cécile Pierrot, Isabelle Rozier, dessus; Daniel Blanchard, Jean-Christophe Clair, Benoît Porcherot, Marc Scaramozzino, haute-contre; Tarik Bousselma, Edouard Hazebrouck, Arnaud Le Du, Pascal Richardin, tenor; Thibault Daquin, Jean-Marc Savigny, Marduk Serrano Lopez, Thomas Van Essen, basse-taille; Sydney Fierro, Gaspard François, Roland Ten Weges, Pierre Virly, basse
Jocelyn Daubigney, Olivier Benichou, transverse flute; Patrick Beaugiraud, Yann Miriel, oboe; Philippe Miqueu, Emmanuel Vigneron, bassoon; David Plantier, Maud Giguet, Charles-Etienne Marchand, Céline Martel, Clémence Schaming, Agnieszka Rychlik, Myriam Cambreling, Emmanuel Curial, Gabriel Ferry, Isabelle Lucas, violin; Michel Renard, Diane Chmela, Laurence Duval, Jean-Luc Thonnérieux, viola; Annabelle Luis, Oleguer Aymami, Emily Robinson, cello; Nicola Dal Maso, double bass; Elisabeth Geiger, harpsichord, organ

In the course of history, many Requiem masses have been written. It is remarkable that during the 17th and 18th centuries very few such works from France are known. The two best-known Requiem masses are those by André Campra and Jean Gilles. No wonder, then, that these two settings have received quite some interest and are available in several recordings. Emmanuelle Haïm is responsible for the latest recording of Campra's Requiem, which she combined with two grands motets, specimens of a popular genre of sacred music in France under the ancien régime.

André Campra was one of the most famous composers in France in the first half of the 18th century. His music attests to a strong influence of the Italian style, and early in his career he showed his interest in opera. He began ecclesiastical studies in 1678, and in 1681, when he was at Aix, he was threatened with dismissal for having participated in theatrical performances without authorization. In the 1680s he acted as maître de chapelle in Arles and maître de musique in Toulouse. In 1694 he was given four month's leave in Paris, but did not return to Toulouse.

That year he was appointed maître de musique at Notre Dame cathedral. His Italianate leanings came to the fore when he introduced violins to support the choir. It was almost inevitable that the music theatre exerted an attraction on him. In 1697 L'Europe Galante, his first opéra-ballet, was performed. The clergy's opposition to the stage was the reason Campra tried to hide his involvement in operatic performances. But as his forays into the operatic scene were successful, he decided to leave his post at the Notre Dame and to concentrate on opera. He benefitted from the climate under the regency of Philippe of Orléans, when there was more openness towards opera and the influence of the Italian style.

In the 1720s Campra returned to the composition of sacred music. He published his fifth book of motets for one to three voices and basso continuo in 1720, fourteen years after the previous book. It was followed by collections of grands motets he had written during his time as maître de musique at Notre Dame, mostly in revised versions. Campra composed three masses, among them the Messe de Requiem. There has been much speculation about the time it was written. It has been suggested it is an early work which was revised later, after Campra had returned to sacred music. However, modern research seems to indicate that it was originally written around 1722.

The Requiem comprises an Introitus in three sections, Kyrie I and II, Gradual, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Post Communion. It was tradition in France to omit Dies Irae and Libera me; Campra also omits the Benedictus. Tutti sections alternate with sections for solo voices. In the Introitus, for instance, two tutti sections embrace 'Te decet hymnus' which is for three voices. The overall atmosphere of this work is that of serenity. Obviously, the omission of the Dies irae contributes to that. That does not mean that there are no dark streaks. The work begins sombre with a motif in the bass, followed by the 'Requiem aeternam', but the atmosphere soon clears up on the words "et lux perpetua luceat eis". Even sombre parts of the text have often a kind of lightness which is characteristic of the whole piece. The Kyrie is one of the most sombre parts. In the Gradual the word "non" is repeated a number of times: "The just (...) shall not fear the evil hearing". In the first part of the Offertorio the strings depict the text - about the "pains of hell" and "the deep pit" - with repeated notes, which in the baroque era was a way to express heavy emotions. It is no surprise that this episode is scored for a trio of the lower voices. In the ensuing tutti section we hear some bold harmonic progressions. The Sanctus is a light-hearted piece in which two trebles appear, probably representing the angels. In the opening of the Agnus Dei Campra offers the alternative of a treble and a tenor - here the version for tenor is chosen.

The selection of the grands motets by Rameau and Mondonville makes much sense. First, stylistically there is not that much difference between Campra's Messe de Requiem and these motets, as the Requiem's texture is largely that of a grand motet. Second, the two motets are settings of Psalms which both deal with the captivity of the Jewish people, in Egypt and in Babylon respectively. Moreover, they date from about the same time.

In convertendo Dominus by Jean-Philippe Rameau was composed between 1713 and 1715; the original version has been lost. What has come down to us is a revision, made for a performance during Holy Week 1751 at the Concert Spirituel. It is a setting of Psalm 125 (126), which is about the captivity of the Jewish people in Babylon. The scoring is for three solo voices, four-part petit choeur and five-part grand choeur and an ensemble of strings and basso continuo with additional winds. The motet opens with a récit for the haute-contre, accompanied by flutes and violins. The second section is another fugue. The fifth section, a solo for soprano, is remarkable for its instrumental scoring for three oboes and two bassoons. Moreover, this verse - "Praise the name of the Lord in song" - is not part of Psalm 125, but rather taken from Psalm 68. The last verse constitutes a strong contrast: "He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." Rameau has depicted this opposition eloquently in his setting: the first half includes some strong dissonances, whereas the text of the second half is illustrated by lively rhythms.

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was born in Narbonne, where his father was organist at the cathedral. It was probably he, who gave Jean-Joseph his first musical lessons, although very little is known about Mondonville's early musical education. In 1731 he settled in Paris and in 1734 he made his debut at the Concert Spirituel as violinist. In the first half of the 1730's his first two collections with chamber music were published. In 1739 he got his first important job: he was appointed violiniste du Chambre et de la Chapelle du Roy. From 1744 to 1756 he acted as maître of the Chapelle Royale, but at the same time developed into one of the busiest and most celebrated violinists of his time. He regularly performed with other top-notch musicians, such as the flautist Michel Blavet, the violinist Jean-Pierre Guignon and the singer Marie Fel. In 1748 he became co-director of the Concert Spirituel, and - after the death of Pancrace Royer in 1755 - director. In this capacity he opened the ears of his audiences for the latest music, like organ concertos by Balbastre and symphonies by Gossec, but also music from abroad, such as works by Wagenseil and Holzbauer.

Mondonville composed instrumental music, operas, oratorios - a genre that was hardly known in France - and grands motets. In the latter category seventeen pieces have been preserved. They were frequently performed at the Concert Spirituel. In exitu Israel dates from 1753 and was performed more than twenty times between 1755 and 1762. It is a setting of Psalm 113 (114): "When Israel went out of Egypt". The text refers to what happened in nature when Israel was freed from its captivity in Egypt. The second and third sections are about the sea and the Jordan, and the movement of the water is depicted by repeated notes in the tutti. It is one of the most dramatic sections of this work, where we notice the influence of Italian opera. The fifth section is for bass with choir; in the first two lines only the low voices of the latter are involved. It is another highly dramatic section, in which the sea and the earth are addressed. In the sixth section there is a strong contrast between the text of the first two lines and that of the third and fourth, and that comes off very well. The same is then case in the closing section. Remarkable is this motet's opening: after an instrumental introduction, called marche in the score, the low voices sing the plainchant melody, which is then taken over by the entire choir in fauxbourdon. This grand motet is a typical specimen of the later stage in the development of the genre. In the motets by composers of the first and second generation, such as Du Mont, Robert and Lully, the solos were fully integrated into the ensemble, whereas in Mondonville's motets and those of his contemporaries, the solo sections are more independent, like arias in an opera.

One thing which performers need to decide is which strings to use. As the reader may know, the orchestra in France traditionally consisted of one violin, three middle voices and bass. In comparison, the Italian orchestra comprised two violins, viola and bass. Interestingly, the scoring in the two grands motets performed here is different: Rameau indicates violins and viola, whereas in Mondonville's score we find references to taille and basse-taille. The manuscript of Campra's Messe de Requiem is in very bad condition, which makes it hard to check what instruments he requires. Emmanuelle Haïm decided to perform all three works with an Italian-style orchestra (assuming she has given it any thought).

The performances are pretty good. The dramatic features come off rather well, and especially the second and third sections of Mondonville's motet are quite impressive, also due to the excellent singing of the choir. The more intimate sections are also done well. Overall I am quite happy with the performances of the soloists. Here and there a bit too much vibrato has crept in, and because of that the trio, which opens the Offertoire in Campra's Requiem is a bit disappointing, as the voices don't blend that well. I especially enjoyed the performances of Samuel Boden, who has a fine haute-contre voice; 'Montes exultaverunt' in Mondonville's motet is particularly nice. The playing of the orchestra is a joy to listen to.

It is a shame that the booklet has little to offer. There is hardly any information about the music and nothing at all about the composers (which is especially regrettable in the case of Mondonville). The lyrics have been included, but without any translation. This recording had deserved better.

All three works on this disc have been recorded before, but this disc is a good competition. If you purchase it, you won't regret it.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Samuel Boden
Marie Perbost
Victor Sicard
Zachary Wilder
Le Concert d'Astrée

CD Reviews