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Briefly Noted: Louis Le Prince

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L. Le Prince, Missa Macula non est in te (inter alia), Le Concert Spirituel, H. Niquet

(released on April 8, 2013)
Glossa GCD921627 | 63'48"
Sacred music in 17th-century France has perhaps taken a back seat to the opera of that period. French conductor Hervé Niquet here makes an ingenious attempt to provide one glimpse into the Baroque chapelle -- French pronunciation of Latin and all -- with a disc of music from the period performed by all women's voices. The backbone of the program is the first recording of the Missa Macula non est in te, a setting of the Ordinary for six voices by Louis Le Prince, the maître de chapelle at the Cathedral of Lisieux, published in 1663, the only work by him known to survive. Proceeding from sources about practices relating to music performed by convents of nuns in the 17th century, Niquet has put together a sort of Mass-Office hybrid, with the five Mass movements surrounded by other pieces suited to different feast days but all for women's voices, here ten singers beautifully balanced in ensemble. The Mass, reconstructed from the score in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France by scholars at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, is worth rediscovering, performed here with instruments (violon consort, bassoon, positive organ) doubling (and sometimes replacing) the vocal parts and captured in radiant sound in the resonant space of the church of Notre Dame du Liban in Paris. The trappings are no less charming, especially the opening motet, Gaudete fideles by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, an ecstatic tribute to St. Bernard, and Lully's rapturous motet O dulcissime domine, with a text that blurs the line just slightly between heavenly devotion and earthly lust. The other pieces, all by Charpentier and all quite charming, include a similarly contemplative Elevation motet, O pretiosum, and his florid setting of the Magnificat canticle, H. 75. Watch a few excerpts performed in the Chapelle Royale de Versailles.

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