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Pierre BOUTEILLER (c1655 - c1717): "Requiem pour Voix d'Hommes"

Le Concert Spirituel
Dir: Hervé Niquet

rec: Feb 2010, Paris, Église Notre Dame du Liban
Glossa - GCD 921621 (© 2010) (62'11")

Pierre BOUTEILLER: Missa pro defunctis a 5; Sébastien DE BROSSARD (1655-1730): Stabat mater a 5

Frédéric Bétous, Didier Bouture, Eric de Fontenay, Yann Rolland, haute-contre; Gauthier Fenoy, Edmond Hurtrait, haute-taille; Nicolas Maire, Pascal Richardin, taille; Justin Bonnet, David Witczak, basse-taille; Paul-Henry Vila, Frédéric Albou, basse-contre; Yuka Saïtó, viola da gamba; Tormod Dalen, petite basse de violon à 5 cordes; Julie Mondor, Nils de Dinechin, cello; Marion Middenway, basse de violon; Luc Devanne, double bass; François Saint-Yves, organ

This is the second time a disc with music by Pierre Bouteiller has crossed my path. In 2005 a disc with religious music by this composer was released at the Canadian label ATMA, "De vanitate mundi". The main work at thia disc is the same as on the present one: the Missa pro defunctis a 5. The title of this disc suggests it has been written for male voices, but strictly speaking that is not correct. It is performed here with male voices, which is just one of the options left to the performer. That is also one of the interesting aspects of this composition.

The fact that Bouteiller hasn't received much attention, with the exception of these two discs, is hardly surprising. Modern music practice mostly concentrates on music written for or performed in Paris or at the court in Versailles. But a large part of his life Bouteiller spent in the province. He was director of music at the cathedral of Troyes in Champagne in 1687. Seven years later he held the same post in Châlons-sur-Marne. In 1698 he established himself in Paris as a player of the viola da gamba and other instruments. Although a Te Deum from his pen has been performed in Paris in 1704 - which has been lost - it seems he didn't write religious music in Paris. And that could well be the reason his vocal music is mostly ignored. No instrumental music by Bouteiller is known.

The reason that he didn't compose any sacred music in Paris could be that his style is different from what was fashionable in Paris at the time. It was mostly grands motets for solo voices, petit choeur, grand choeur and orchestra which were performed. Bouteiller's music is in a more traditional, polyphonic style in which all parts are of equal weight. His Missa pro defunctis is a perfect example. This recording sheds light on a particular way of performing music like this, and is based on a description by the composer Jacques de Gouy in the preface to his Airs à quatre parties sur la paraphrase des pseaumes de Godeau (1650).

It is important enough to quote: "Clergy and monks, who ordinarily do not run to dessus singers, or rarely ever to hautes-contre, will be able to sing the two, three and four-voice psalms depending on the number of singers available: - In two parts, the dessus is to be sung in the taille voice and the bass as it is written, or even taille and bass together. - In three parts, the dessus in the taille, and the taille and the bass in the natural register. - In four parts, if there are hautes-contre available, the dessus is to be sung by the taille and the three other parts should be sung just as they are indicated in the books. This way is the least successful; all the more so as the hautes-contre will be higher than the dessus which is being sung by the taille voice. If they have bass viols at their disposal, they should use them to perform the missing vocal parts and sing the rest".

These suggestions are then followed by comparable indications for performances in women's convents. This practice is used here as well, and although one may question whether the indications by De Gouy can simply be applied to music by Bouteiller, the polyphonic texture of the latter's music are likely comparable to that of De Gouy's psalms. And it seems unlikely the latter's instructions were strongly out of step with what was common practice in this kind of music. Moreover, comparable practices of transposition of parts and replacement of voices by instruments are known from various women's convents in Italy in the 17th century. It was quite usual to adapt music to the forces available.

That said, I think that Niquet has chosen the option which De Gouy marked as "the least successful". Here the dessus part becomes the second voice, whereas the hautes-contre sing the top line. This performance practice is also interesting from a harmonic point of view. Transposing parts changes the harmonic texture; did composers care less about that than we are inclined to think? The various options in regard to scoring means that one performance can differ considerably from another in regard to harmony. So, this performance raises all kinds of intriguing questions.

The Missa pro defunctis by Bouteiller is performed as part of a liturgical reconstruction. Hervé Niquet has chosen several pieces by other composers to create a complete Office of the Dead. All these additional pieces are instrumental; the composers are Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), Henri Frémart (?-after 1646), Pierre Hugard (c1725-after 1765) and Louis Le Prince Mid-17th C). Unfortunately the sources are not given. In particular the use of music which dates from after Bouteiller's death is hardly justifiable. In addition some improvisations are played at the organ, and the 'Christe' from Bouteiller's mass is performed instrumentally.

In addition a setting of the Stabat mater by Sébastien Brossard is performed, more or less in the same way as Bouteiller's Missa pro defunctis. Here a number of movements are also performed instrumentally. The addition of a piece by Brossard makes a lot of sense. He was not only a composer in his own right, but also an avid collector of music by other composers. We know almost all of Bouteiller's music because De Brossard once met Bouteiller and received a manuscript with his compositions from him. In her liner notes Fannie Vernaz states that stylistically De Brossard and Bouteiller are pretty close, and that is confirmed by the Stabat mater performed here.

The quality of the compositions, the concept of this disc and the performance practice result in an enthralling recording. In addition the performances are excellent. The power and the sonority of the male vocal ensemble is impressive, and the expression of both pieces comes off well. The instruments deliver good performances as well, both independently as well as playing colla voce. The spatial arrangement of the singers and players also contribute to this performance making a great and lasting impression.

The booklet's programme notes are in French, English, German and Spanish, and so are the translations of the Latin lyrics.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Le Concert Spirituel

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