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4.8.14

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 3 )
Ouverture spirituelle • William Christie & Les Arts Florissant

Ouverture spirituelle • Rameau and Mondonville: Motets


Jolly Grand Motets


Picture (detail) © Denis Rouvre.


William Christie, the American gentleman early music pioneer, dapper and smiling like Michael Caine on a good day, led his band of splendid musicians, Les Arts Florissant, in a quartet of Grand Motets by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville in the Salzburg University’s Collegiate Church. After having missed the apparently beyond-spectacular Gardiner/mco_London Monteverdi performance at the Salzburg cathedral, I wasn’t going to take any chances missing another Overture spirituelle concert of early music in sacred setting… not that I would have missed that French ensemble, to which I owe many happy hours of CD-listening, anyway.)



available at Amazon
J-J. de Mondonville, Grand Motets
W.Christie / Les Arts Florissant
Erato
Part of what made the Monteverdi-affair in the cathedral so special, I was told, was the ingenious, well judged, painstakingly calibrated use of the acoustic there, with choristers spread throughout the church, on all levels and from all directions. The same cannot be said about this concert in this one of Salzburg’s 381* other churches. At least twenty rows away from the action, the orchestra and chorus (placed in the choir and apse sections of the Kollegienkirche), were obscured. The soloists—a splendid cast of next-generation singers—at least, were partially allowed to shine. (Perhaps placing the musicians at the crossing of transcept and nave might have achieved better results, but then that would have cut considerably into seating allocation and/or demanded the elaborate construction of bleachers behind the orchestra, above the altar… something that getting the church’s permission for might well be in the realm of the impossible, anyway.) Further up front (in row 3, after intermission, making use of some of the free seats), orchestra and chorus were much more easily heard, with the necessary amount of clarity to now coming through to let the music come together and better work its admittedly enchanting nature.

That enchanting nature is, surprisingly to the non-Grand-Motet-expert, more pronounced with De Mondonville (“J.J.Mondy”, to his friends) than the more famous Rameau. The latter—Quam dilecta and In convertendo—are very nice Rameau. But next to the happy high-baroque flamboyance of the latter, they are comparatively subdued. The former knew how to write a Grand Motet, alright: The opening of the Dominus regnavit is effective as the dickens! And that work, though highly popular in its day (1734), was not even nearly as admired as In exitu Israel (1753) which became a greatest hit of the time, performed some eight times every season (!), for two decades (!)—as booklet note writer Fedora Wesseler, something of a Grand-Motet-expert, tells us. In said In exitu Israel, the bit about the river Jordan receding, with its ha-ha-ha-halting repeated fi-fi-fi-figures and text-fragmentation was such a hit even with the 2014 audience, that it was rightly given as a fourth encore.


available at Amazon
J-P. Rameau, Grand Motets
W.Christie / Les Arts Florissant
Erato


available at Amazon
Grand Motets Français
W.Christie / Les Arts Florissant
Erato
Born in 1711 (to Rameau’s 1683), De Mondonville had had time to learn and apply new styles, having come late to the genre… indeed: come to it at a time when the Grand Motet had emancipated itself entirely from its role as sacred music toward art-music. Text and music often seem divorced in these four works, but that doesn’t much matter, as the average modern listener doesn’t care about the text… Firstly in principle—because we listen to such music as absolute music now, ignoring the anachronistic texts that take so much more effort to understand in their context. Secondly—because whatever text there was, was hard to understand except to the few front-rowers. And thirdly—because even if the text had been more easily discerned, it still would have been in Latin, which—baring the natural exceptions—isn’t spoken even by the “average” modern audience of Rameau and J.J.Mondy. Music, however, the people do care about (a generous, but reasonable presumption at the Salzburg Festival), and they got a good deal of very good music, excitingly performed.

To elaborate on the singers: Amid the very pleasingly high level, no one was altogether outstanding, except for particular traits. Reinoud van Mechelen—much better close-up than at a distance—may need to become more secure in his considerable abilities to add the humility that will allow him to really explore the great potential of his very fine haute-contre/high-tenor. Soprano Rachel Redmond was the most immediate to impress: her clear voice with a choice vibrato needs only a little further ripening to avoid that high notes threaten to close and narrow said vibrato… which would then promise great pleasure to be had here, every time, in every register. She also sounded her impressive self at every distance and stood out—in the positive sense, and at the danger of contradicting my earlier claim—in ensembles with her colleagues. That might have given short shrift to the early impression Katherine Watson made… when her solo parts, close up, turned out to sound very pleasing, also. Her soprano is very focused and therefore prone to piercing, but with an amiable, friendly sound, very clear and certainly able to sing above any noise-obstacles (like an overbearing orchestra or unflattering acoustic) in her way. Spot-on intonation, superb leaps, and wonderful low notes further sweeten the deal. If Rachel Redmond’s voice displayed the characteristics of an unripe cherry, Watson’s showed herself a slightly astringent, summery peach.

Of tenor Cyric Auvity I should have liked to hear a lot more during the proceedings—in the bit(s)he did have, he impressed even from afar with his expressive voice and fine range. Marc Mauillon had more opportunity but made less of it. He is prone to exaggeration and when he indulges in it, he starts sounding like a baritone version of Domique Visse. Sometimes to decent effect; usually not. Bass Cyril Constanzo, finally, is further than many young basses in that he has a settled voice that already displays some character—not just loud but hollow low notes. (Not nearly as mature and rich as Peter Lobert from the recently heard Hiob, but then he latter has 14 years on his younger French colleague.) Most pleasing was the effect of the male singers in ensemble—and most especially among the ensembles the “Et enim firmavit” of the Dominus regnavit with van Mechelen, Auvity, and Constanzo.

I hope I will hear more of J.J.Mondy. I know I will hear more of those singers.


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