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Henry MADIN (1678 - 1748): "Les Petits Motets"

Le Concert Lorrain
Dir: Anne-Catherine Bucher

rec: May 17 - 20, 2006, Valerysthal (Moselle), Chapelle Saint-Augustin
K617 - K617184 (© 2007) (57'07")

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749): Chaconne; Sonata I; Henry Madin: Confitebor tibi Domine; Diligam te Domine; Domine salvum fac regem; Mottet Élévation (Adoro te); Mottet pour la Sainte Vierge (Speciosa facta est); Mottet pour le Commun des Abbez Fondateur d'Ordres (Laetare et exulta solitudo); Mottet pour l'Assomption de la Ste Vierge et pour le Commun des Vierges Martires (Filiae regum in honoro tuo); Recordatus est misericordiae suae (Cantate Domino); Regina coeli; Tantum ergo

Julie Hassler, Sophie Landy, Virginie Lefebvre, dessus I; Maryseult Wieczorek, Violaine Lucas, Laureen Stoulig, dessus II; Hélène Schmitt, Hélène Lacroix, violin; Stephan Schultz, basse de violon; Benjamin Perrot, theorbo; Anne-Catherine Bucher, harpsichord, organ

Henry Madin is one of the many composers in music history whose names are almost completely forgotten. In the case of a French composer that is often caused by the fact that they didn't work in one of the country's main political and cultural centres: Paris and Versailles. In Madin's case, though, that is only partly true. Apparently his compositions were good enough to be performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris from 1732 on, and in 1736 he was invited to serve in the chapel of Louis XV in Versailles, alongside a celebrity as André Campra. When he left duties after two years he received the title of sous-maître de la musique de la Chapelle du Roi, and in 1742 he returned to Versailles: Campra had died and Madin took over his duty as master of the choirboys (pages) of the Chapelle du Roi, a position he held until his death.

In the years before he moved to Versailles and between 1738 and 1742 he worked in the region. He was born in Verdun and here he received his first musical training in the choir school of the cathedral. His first job was as maître de musique in Meaux; here he became close to the famous composer and theorist Sébastien de Brossard. Between 1726 and 1730 he worked in Verdun again, and then moved to Tours. And between 1738 and 1742 he worked as director of the choir school at Rouen. Today Madin may be almost totally forgotten, in his time he was held in high esteem, for instance by the theorist Titon du Tillet, who called him "one of the finest motet composers of this age".

Madin's oeuvre is almost exclusively of religious nature which reflects the positions he held during his life. He wrote four polyphonic masses and about 30 so-called grands motets, works for soli, tutti and instruments.
This disc not only sheds light on Madin's oeuvre, but also on some interesting performance practices of his time. The most remarkable of these is the habit of taking récits - sections for solo voice – from a grand motet and turning them into a petit motet. This practice is also known from someone like Henry Desmarets.

The other source of music by Madin is a collection of motets dating from 1740, whose composer is only referred to as "H.M." As there is no other composer of this time known with these initials Anne-Catherine Bucher believes Henry Madin can only be the composer of these motets. Interestingly they are set for two treble voices with or without basso continuo. One could consider them the practical counterpart of Madin's theoretical work Traité de Contrepoint simple ou Chant sur le Livre, which he published in 1742. Its starting point is also strict two-part counterpoint, although he doesn't leave it at that. What is particularly remarkable is that in the preface to the motets he offers two options of performing them: "One may sing these duets without basso continuo, and without accompanying instruments [simphonie], by the simple expedient of having the second part perform the small notes which constitute the bass, and one may add a simphonie to those which are without one by repeating the same chant at each reprise." This means that in some pieces one voice sings the solo, whereas the second sings the basso continuo. Also interesting is that at several places the indication Tous (all) appears. This means the solo voices should be joined by others, thus constituting a semi-chorus (petit Choeur), a phenomenon well-known from the grand motet. As these motets are written for trebles only, this means that the semi-chorus also consists of high voices only. Therefore no male voice is heard on this disc.

The result is a disc which is very interesting in regard to repertoire and performance practice. From this perspective it is a very nice and worthwhile addition to the catalogue. I am a little less enthusuastic about the performances as such. Some pieces are done very well, in particular the petits motets derived from Madin's grands motets. Here Julie Hassler and in particular Sophie Landy give fine accounts of the solo parts. But in other pieces some singers use more vibrato than is justified, and the sound of the ensemble suffers as a result of this. The first duet, Tantum ergo, for instance, is much better than the second, Mottet pour la Sainte Vierge, simply because the soloists in the former, Julie Hassler and Maryseult Wieczorek, blend better than the singers of the latter, Virginie Lefebvre and Violaine Lucas.

A little odd is the addition of two instrumental pieces by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault. He didn't write that many ensemble music and in the booklet no connection is suggested between Clérambault and Madin. I have no idea where the Chaconne for violin and bc comes from, and New Groves' didn't clear the matter either. I also don't know what exactly the title of the other piece, the Sonata I for two violins and bc, is. According to the tracklist it is "l'Anonima", but in the booklet itself it is called "l'Armonica". So what is it then? A little more careful editing hadn't been amiss as far as the booklet is concerned. Also a part of the lyrics of Confitebor tibi Domine has been omitted. And although the programme notes are in French and English, the Latin lyrics are only translated in French. Regularly K617 produces discs with French music, which is almost completely unknown. If they really want this music to be better known, then they should really serve the non-French listener better with appropriate translations.

Despite these critical remarks I like to recommend this recording for the reasons I have given before.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

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