In 1672, Lully purchased a royal privilege (or license) from Pierre Perrin to establish the Académie Royale de Musique, for the performance of French operas in Paris. Soon thereafter he and his associates pursued a dual course of activity, setting up similar institutions in other French cities, and securing a series of royally granted patents and ordinances to prevent other entrepreneurs from doing the same. Lully also made sure that his were the only operas to be given in effect, securing a national monopoly on operatic music.
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.
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.
Like olives, artichokes, and more essentially and problematically, anchovies, Patricia Petibon's voice is an acquired taste. She is a high coloratura (up to E-flat), her technique is formidable, capable of great floridity and very fine breath control, she sings mostly without vibrato, and the tone can be so diamond-brilliant that it can grate, although for darker dramatic moments she can moderate the shine.
Pinchgut Opera, based in Sydney and founded in 2002, specializes in Baroque and Classical opera, featuring works such as Semele, The Fairy Queen, Idomeneo, and Orfeo. One of its more obscure repertoire choices is Marc-Antoine Charpentier's 1688 David & Jonathan. It's a work that's rarely performed or recorded, so this fine performance is revelatory.
French Baroque music has never achieved the general familiarity of its German and Italian cousins, but that's not for any lack of trying on the part of conductor Sébastien Daucé and his Ensemble Correspondances. What you get here is a Pastorale de Noël a fairly short but grand Christmas narrative plus one set of "Antiennes de O," or O Anthems, so called because each one begins with the word "O."