Beata es Maria is made up primarily of vocal music in praise of the Virgin that features three men's voices, a counter tenor, tenor, and bass. It's an especially attractive ensemble, and Charpentier, who is known to have sometimes sung the tenor parts, knew how to make the vocal lines terrifically appealing. The Magnificat that opens the album beautifully illustrates his skill in taking a much-used convention the chaconne, with a harmonic progression that (the composer reports) repeats 89 times and keeping it endlessly intriguing with his inventive handling of the voices.
With four recordings in six months, this seems to be open season for the Poulenc motets. The newcomers are up against stiff competition, and don't emerge unscathed from comparison either with the college next door (under Marlow on Conifer) or with the choir under the musical director of the one further along the road (Rutter on Collegium/Gamut).
A treasure map is needed to find one’s way through this release. The CDs and DVD, exquisitely encased in a beautiful book – full of facsimiles, photographs and essays as well as vocal texts in innumerable translations – contain performances of some of the most beautifully crafted, deeply spiritual music Charpentier ever wrote. Catherine Cessac, the foremost French authority on Charpentier, writes eloquently on the music and Savall on the impetus for the collection. The repertoire, inspired by the story of the Virgin Mary, is drawn from all periods of Charpentier’s life and reflects the different private and public circumstances of his employment, the musical resources available to him and occasions for which he composed. In several cases more than one performance, each with different personnel, has been included, hence the need for a map.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - February 24, 1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era.
He was a prolific and versatile composer, producing music of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in the composition of sacred vocal music was recognized and acknowledged by his contemporaries.
It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)