Messe du Roi Soleil

Messe du Roi Soleil
Lully – Couperin – Delalande
Chœur et Ensemble Marguerite Louise, Gaetan Jarry, organ
Château de Versailles Spectacles, CVS008. 53’13

The Château de Versailles Spectacles label continues with its series of recordings based on the music that might have been heard in the Royal Chapel. These recordings are presumably aimed principally at the tourists that, in more normal circumstances, flock to the Palace and its gift shops. On this occasion, there has to be a health warning to more serious CD buyers, not least because the premise for this recording is not really what it says on the tin. One thing this isn’t is a Mass for the Sun King, or indeed, any sort of Mass.

The two main pieces are large-scale grands motets by Lalande and Lully. Although they may have been performed during such a Mass, they are not really part of a Mass setting. Couperin’s Venite exultemus Domino is a setting of a psalm for Matins. The Sun King’s Mass was no doubt a splendid occasion, rich with ceremonial, and this recording crams in elements of it into a rather short recording that rather reduces the grand effect that was probably intended.

The two large-scale motets are performed well by the Chœur et Ensemble Marguerite Louise, with some fine solos. They are surrounded by snippets of pieces that may have been part of a ceremonial Mass, starting with the opening ringing of the Versaille bell and a Marche pour fifres et tambours that might have heralded the arrival of the King. A two-minute burst from the historic Versailles organ leads straight into the first grands motet, Lalande’s Exaltabo te Domine. 

A central sequence includes what is supposed to represent the Offertory, the moment when the organist had sufficient time to play (or more likely, improvise) a large scale piece, usually utilising the full power of the reeds of the organ. But for this recording, a much smaller Dialogue sur les grands Jeux by Couperin is performed instead, lasting just 1’37. After the Venite exultemus Domino, sung by the choir rather than two solo voices, we hear the lovely Tierce en taille from Couperin’s Messe à l’usage des Couvents. In that context, it was intended to be just one of several organ pieces played during the singing of one of the sections of the Mass, rather than as a stand-alone piece. It is possibly here intended to represent the Elevation.

After a tiny communion chant comes the concluding grands motet, Lully’s Exaudiat te Dominus, with it concluding Domine salvum fac Regem and Gloria, a paean of praise to the Sun King, a version of which ended all such services. The applause at the end does rather reduce the overall effect of a ceremonial Mass.

Although worth listening to for the two grands motets, this does not otherwise reflect much more than a brief insight into the music that one of the Sun King’s ceremonial Mass.

François-André Danican PHILIDOR (1652-1730)
Marche pour fifres et tambours
Jean-Adam GUILAIN (c.1680-1739)
Suite du troisième tonPlein jeu
Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Exaltabo te Domine, S.66
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Messe à l’usage des CouventsDialogue sur les grands jeux
Venite exultemus Domino
Messe à l’usage des CouventsTierce en taille
Communion de la Messe pour Saint Louis
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Exaudiat te Dominus