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Joseph VALETTE DE MONTIGNY (1665 - 1738): "Grands Motets"

Eva Tamisier, Coline Bouton, dessus; David Tricou, Charles d'Hubert, haute-contre; Pierre Perny, Clément Lanfranchi, taille; Timothé Bougon, basse-taille; Raphaël Marbaud, bass
Ensemble Antiphona
Dir: Rolandas Muleika

rec: August 2019, Toulouse, Église Saint-Pierre des Chartreux
Paraty - 321262 (© 2021) (54'53")
Liner-notes: E/F; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Salvum me fac Deus; Surge propera Sion filia

Lucie Rueda, Thaïs Lescoul, Isaure Amans, Claire-Lise Bouton, Sylvie Chat, Julie Foisil, dessus; Zdenka Vodickova, bas-dessus; Felix Vincent, haute-contre; Anthony Viandier, Alexis Didry, taille; Valentin Gautron, Geoffrey Allix, basse-taille; Bruno Arliguie, Benjamin Gout-Muñoz, Álvaro González, bass
Patrick Pages, Fabien Versavel, trumpet; Laura Duthillé, Nathalie Petibon, recorder, oboe; Pauline Henric, Anne-Lise Chevalier, violin; Ophélie Renard, haute-contre de violon; Juliette Vittu, cello; Mathieu Serrano, violone; Amélie Boulas, bassoon; Lilian Poueydebat, serpent; Patrick Vivien, theorbo; Saori Sato, organ; Anthony Viandier, timpani

Our picture of French Baroque music is almost completely dominated by what was written and performed in Paris and at the court in Versailles. Composers who were active in other parts of the country are not that well represented on disc. Fortunately, there are performers and ensembles who are willing to bring such music to our attention, and one of them is Rolandas Muleika. A few years ago Paraty released a disc with music from the south of France from the archive of the chapel of the Black Penitents in Villefranche-de-Rouerge ("L'Occitanie baroque des Pénitents Noirs"). The composers on that disc are little-known, but interestingly one of them, Bernard-Aymable Dupuy, also turns up in the biography of Joseph Valette de Montigny, to whom the present disc is devoted. For information about him one has to rely entirely on the booklet to this disc, as the composer has no entry in New Grove. That in itself attests to the lack of attention given to composers outside Paris and Versailles.

Valette de Montigny was born in Béziers, a town in the Languedoc. He started his musical career as a choirboy in the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse. In 1689, at the age of just 24, he was appointed maître de musique of the Cathedral. He did not stay long, as in the next years he acted in the same position in the cathedrals of Narbonne and Dijon. At the end of the century he started travelling across Europe. He stayed for a while in Amsterdam and then moved to London, where he wrote some funeral music. This very fact makes it rather strange that he apparently has escaped the attention of the British music encyclopedia New Grove. In 1702 he was in Copenhagen, where he composed a cantata. He then returned to France, where he stayed in Lyons and Paris. Between 1711 and 1716 he was in Italy. After his return he worked in Senlis and in Bordeaux. During the last ten years of his life, Valette de Montigny acted as the director of the maitrise of the collégiale Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. There he asked the chapter to attract more musicians, apparently needed for the music he was planning to perform. The recruitment of foreign musicians for performances at large religious events is documented. Among them were feasts of the confraternity of the Blue Penitents. A membercof the chapel was the above-mentioned Bernard-Aymable Dupuy, who was to act as maître de musique to Saint-Sermin from 1745 to 1789.

We owe the knowledge of Valette de Montigny and his work to the musicologist Benoît Michel, who put together a catalogue of his output, which comprises 48 pieces: around ten secular or instrumental pieces, 24 motets, 9 Noëls and four cantiques spirituels. Unfortunately, about half of his oeuvre has been lost. To date, nothing of his oeuvre has been recorded; the two motets on the present disc may have never been performed since Valette de Montigny's time in Toulouse.

Both pieces can be connected to the year 1730. At first sight, the title Surge propera sounds familiar: these words are the first of a verse from the Song of Solomon, which has been set many times throughout history. However, Valette de Montigny's motet goes on with the words "Sion filia"; the text is from the pen of Jean de Lopès, who was a member of the confraternity of the Blue Penitents. The motet was performed at the confraternity's procession on 11 June 1730. The splendour of the occasion explains the scoring for six solo voices, five-part choir and an orchestra which included two flutes (here recorders), two oboes, two trumpets and timpani. The latter are involved in the third section, "Tubae sonitu". How Valette de Montigny has translated the text into music is impossible to say, as the booklet omits the lyrics. Notable are the vivid symphonie which opens the work, and the obbligato oboe in the fourth section, "Christo vero soli", a solo for haute-contre.

In contrast, the second work, Salvum me fac Deus, does allow for an analysis of Valette de Montigny's skills in text expression, as this motet is a setting of verses from Psalm 68 (69). It is divided into eight sections, each setting a specific verse from the Psalm. Valette de Montigny does not exactly follow the order of the verses in the Psalm. The first two sections set the verses 2 and 3, next follows verse 5. Then we hear settings of the verses 25, 33, 35, 30 and 31, in that order. This psalm opens with an expression of the sad state of mind of the poet: "Save me, O God, for the waters have entered, even to my soul". The words "I have become stuck in a deep quagmire" are eloquently expressed. The same goes for the bass récit "Those who hate me without cause have been multiplied beyond the hairs of my head". Verse 25 is given an offensive setting for choir: "Pour out your indignation upon them, and may the fury of your anger take hold of them". As so often, a reference to the poor is allocated to low voices. "Let the poor see and rejoice" is a duet of baritone and bass. Then we first get verse 35: "Let the heavens and the earth praise him", sung by choir, with solo interventions, and then the soprano sings verse 30: "I am poor and sorrowful", and the overall mood is emphasized by the role of the basso continuo, here with the participation of a bassoon. The motet closes with a duet of haute-contre and baritone, followed by a chorus on the text of verse 31: "I will praise the name of God with a canticle, and I will magnify him with praise".

In the booklet, Muleika and the performers express their admiration for Valette de Montigny's motets, and I wholeheartedly agree. These pieces are of excellent quality, and it is quite surprising and regrettable that it has taken so long before they were performed and recorded. The grand motet was an important genre, invented by Heny du Mont and Pierre Robert, and later Jean-Baptiste Lully and Michel-Richard de Lalande contributed to the genre. The latter's motets were Louis XIV's favourites, and these were also performed at the Concert Spirituel (founded in 1725). These motets by Valette de Montigny attest to the dissemination of the genre, and they are in no way inferior to what was written and performed in Versailles and Paris. They make curious about other parts of his oeuvre (let's hope for more), and make the loss of about half of it highly regrettable.

This disc is the best possible case for Valette de Montigny's oeuvre. I have greatly admired the singing and playing of the ensemble. The soloists are in superb form. Unfortunately it is not indicated who of them is singing where, but in the end it does not really matter, as they all have lovely voices. The tenor in the opening verse of Surge propera is just outstanding, as are the haute-contre and baritone in the second. The voices in the choir blend perfectly, and the orchestra delivers colourful performances, emphasizing the expression of the text.

I strongly recommend this disc to anyone interested in French baroque music, who wants to expand his horizon beyond what was performed in the centre of France. These two motets are brilliant specimens of that admirable and typically French genre of the grand motet.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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