Hymne à la Vierge
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 2
Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment, Eamonn Dougan
Kings Place, 26 November 2016
Charpentier: Ave Regina H. 45, Litanies a la Vierge H. 90, Pro omnibus festis BVM H.333, Pulchra es a3 H.52, Regina Caeli H.46, Alma Redemptoris H.44, Litanies a la Vierge H.83;
F. Couperin: Concerto Royale No. 1
Monsieur de Saint-Colombe: Les Pleurs;
Marin Marais: Pieces de viole, Livre III: Suite No. 7 in G, Allemande le Magnifique
Robert de Visée: Prélude, Allemande, Les Sylvains de Mr Couprin, par Mr de Viseé
As the title suggested, this concert focussed on vocal music for Marian devotion, and in particular, that written by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. There is an unproven suggestion that he travelled to Rome to study painting, although he certainly built the foundations of his future musical career whilst studying with Carissimi. On his return, he joined the household of Marie of Lorraine, the Duchess of Guise in the privileged role of house composer. The musical bond between the Duchess and Charpentier was clearly strong, not least in their mutual admiration for Italian music and in devotion to the Virgin Mary. For around 17 years, until Marie’s death, Charpentier wrote for the musicians of her household, producing some of the most beautiful music from the whole French Baroque era, most of it in praise of the BVM. He later moved to posts at the Jesuit St Paul-St Louis and eventually to the Royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle.
Eamonn Dougan (pictured) had put the Weekend of Excessively Good Taste’s events together, and directed this concert, drawing on a group of eight impressive singers (not named as a group) that he was clearly used to working with through his conducting and singing career with The Sixteen and other groups. The instrumentalists were drawn from members of the Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment, in this case appearing in one of their smallest incarnations, with just five players.
The key Charpentier works were the Pro omnibus festis B.V.M, a fascinating 10 minute long dialogue between man and the angels, using the male and female singers graphically, and the concluding, almost hypnotic Litanies de la Vierge, written for the funeral of Mademoiselle de Guise in 1688 and no doubt expressing as much praise for his patron as for the Virgin Mary. We also heard several of Charpentier’s antiphons to the Virgin. Notable singing contributions came from soprano Zoe Brookshaw, haute-contre Hugh Hymas, and baritone Greg Skidmore.
The Charpentier vocal pieces were contrasted with instrumental music from some of Charpentier’s near contemporaries. Most notably, these included exquisite performances of Saint-Colombe’s Les Pleurs and two of Marin Marais’s Pieces de viole by David Miller, theorbo, and Jonathan Manson, viola da gambe respectively. Stephen Devine also played a harpsichord transcription of Couperin’s Les Sylvains prelude by Robert de Visée.An excellent concert of music by an important composer, and a fitting conclusion to the Weekend of Excessively Good Taste.