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Briefly Noted: Lalande's grands motets

available at Amazon
Michel Richard de Lalande, Grands motets, Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé

(released on February 4, 2022)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902625 | 80'20"
Long-time readers are already aware of my admiration for the French early music group Ensemble Correspondances. Their streamed concert, aired by the Library of Congress, was one of the highlights of 2021, and a few years ago they made a stellar disc of music by this composer, Michel Richard de Lalande, back when the Washington Post was still publishing recording reviews. While that earlier recording focused on Lalande's solo motets, this even more satisfying disc brings together three grands motets, large-scale choral works that also feature parts for solo voices, recorded February 2021 at the Arsenal de Metz.

The new recording immediately grabbed my ears with the opening verse of Lalande's Dies irae, a substantial work composed for the funeral of the Dauphine Marie-Anne-Christine of Bavaria, who had died in Versailles on April 20, 1690. Likely performed when she was interred in the Abbey of Saint-Denis, on May 5, the dessus (treble) part makes an intoxicating, dance-like quotation of the first verse of the famous chant melody. The direct reference to the chant melody ceases after that first verse: an almost fandango-like spirit invades the "Tuba mirum" movement, and the happy setting of "Confutatis" dances, a curious opposition to the "Voca me" music. Gorgeous choral textures return in the "Lachyrmosa" and "Pie Jesu" movements.

The group's earlier recording included the solo version of the composer's most celebrated motet, Miserere, an expansive setting of the penitential psalm. Daucé has now added an authoritative recording of the original choral motet, composed in 1687. The group's female voices excel over the male voices, especially in the opening section and the "Asperges me," composed on the ground bass pattern associated with the chaconne, with lovely paired flutes and chiffy organ. The closing choral section, "Benigne fac deus," is fast and taut.

The most complex of the motets, in terms of choral textures, is Veni creator spiritus, composed in 1684 on the Gregorian hymn text for Pentecost. The performances, full of many running lines taken at generally rapid tempos, are exceptional. This is a motet likely heard many times, not only at Pentecost but at other ceremonies for the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, of which the King was Grand Maître, on other significant feast days. Lalande also served as composer of the king's secular music, and there are three instrumental pieces included from that part of his work. Thomas Leconte, a researcher at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, contributes not only authoritative program notes but editions of the scores for some of these pieces, taken from the Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roi and other sources. The most interesting is an unlisted final track, the disc's Easter egg, a lengthy, complex Grande pièce en G-ré-sol.

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