Magazine article Gramophone

Narrative Charpentier and His First Sacred History, Judith

Magazine article Gramophone

Narrative Charpentier and His First Sacred History, Judith

Article excerpt


Judith sive Bethulia liberata, H391.

Caedes sanctorum innocentium, H411 Dagmar Saskova sop Erwin Aros counterten Jean-Francois Novelli ten Arnaud Richard bass Les Pages, Chanteurs et Symphonistes du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles/ Olivier Schneebeli

K617 (F) K617 242 (59' * DDD * T)

Recorded live at the Chapelle Royal, Chateau de Versailles, October 5 & 6,2012

Charpentier's histoires sacrees show the strong influence of his probable teacher Carissimi. His first sacred history, Judith, was composed in the mid-1670s, shortly after returning from Rome: the alluring widow Judith dominates with her succession of solos (aptly characterised by Dagmar Saskova), as she seduces and then brutally beheads the sleeping Assyrian warrior Holofernes. The shorter and more engaging Caedes sanctorum innocentium (probably 1683-85) recounts Herod's massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem: a lovely pastoral sinfonia introduces the Angel warning Joseph to flee to Egypt, but the action moves rapidly to a double chorus that puts Herod's soldiers and the defiant mothers of Bethlehem in dramatic opposition and is then interjected by the mothers' plaintive lamentations.

Olivier Schneebeli directs full-blooded interpretations. The imbalance of sonorities between a small band and a large choir (occasionally including children) seems skew-whiff--Charpentier's distinction between passages for 'petit choeur' and 'grand choeur' might not contradict the viability of a smaller vocal group. Singers over-egg their slurred appoggiaturas at cadences and a chorus for the Assyrians is exaggerated as a pantomime caricature of villainy, but this live recording offers a useful insight into some little-known Charpentier. …

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