While we are now well acquainted with the key religious compositions which marked the apogee of sacred music in the age of Louis XIV, those written for Mass celebrations under Louis XVI still await rediscovery. Yet at this time the grand motet genre was still sparkling with invention, served as it was by such gifted composers as Gossec, Gretry, and Francois Giroust, the last 'maitre de musique' at the Chapel Royal.
The title of the two-disc album, Vivaldi: Vespro a San Marco, implies that the composer wrote a set of pieces comparable to Monteverdi's Vespro della beata Vergine, but the title needs to be interpreted somewhat loosely. The program notes describe the collection of psalms, canticles, motets, and prefatory chants recorded here as an evocation of a service of vespers Vivaldi might have assembled rather than a reconstruction of one he actually ever did. These vespers are distinctly Vivaldian in idiom, but they resemble Monteverdi's in the use of some common texts and in the diversity of musical styles, genres, and performing forces assembled; there is not much of a sense of unity in the traditional sense, but a profusion of delightfully varied musical vignettes, including a cappella chants, solos, ensembles, choruses, and instrumental pieces.
Unlike Rameau's other operatic output, 'Le Temple de la Gloire' has been incomprehensibly neglected on disc and on the stage until very recently. There have been a few recordings of the dances from the opera, arranged into suites, but this is the first recording of the complete work. The libretto by Voltaire involves mainly allegorical, symbolic and mythical characters, but its intention is serious – namely to demonstrate his philosophy advocating tolerance, freedom, the welfare and contentment of the people. Of course these are concepts which few of us would argue with today, but it was a different matter under the absolutism of the 18th century.
The instrumental works of Marc-Antoine Charpentier are familiar to very few people. A large number of them were composed for use in churches, the most famous of these being the Messe pour plusieurs instruments au lieu des orgues that has already been recorded by Jean Tubéry and La Fenice for Ricercar (RIC 245). Charpentier composed the Sonate à huit around 1685, at a time when various private musical societies were exploring the Italian sonata style. Charpentier discovered this style at the same time as François Couperin, who also set about composing sonatas in the Italian style. Charpentier’s Sonate à huit blends the Italian style with the French suite of dances and as such is one of the masterpieces of instrumental music of the French baroque. The symphonies Pour un Reposoir were intended to accompany an outdoor procession, an organ naturally not being available. The greater part of the CD, however, is taken up by the Noëls pour les Instruments which Charpentier set for instrumental ensemble and organ. We have also recorded the original versions of the above-mentioned Christmas carols, complete with their many verses as they appeared in French collections published at the beginning of the 18th century. This recording of Christmas music can be enjoyed throughout the year!
While we are now well acquainted with the key religious compositions which marked the apogee of sacred music in the age of Louis XIV, those written for Mass celebrations under Louis XVI still await rediscovery. Yet at this time the grand motet genre was still sparkling with invention, served as it was by such gifted composers as Gossec, Grétry, and François Giroust, the last 'maître de musique' at the Chapel Royal.