Sunday , June 16 2024
Ensemble Correspondances
Ensemble Correspondances

Music Review: Ensemble Correspondances – ‘Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Messe de Minuit’ (Christmas Music from 1694)

Halloween decorations have gone up, so naturally it’s time for new holiday albums to appear. That’s a neutral way of saying Christmas music, of course. But today, instead of yet another collection of Yuletide hits from a pop star or a jazz cat, I’ve got cued up some music that’s more than three centuries old: the Messe de Minuit pour Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, dating from 1694. The new recording from Ensemble Correspondances, led by Sébastian Daucé, of this Midnight Mass and other Christmas music by Charpentier definitely brings some joy to the world, no matter what holidays you may celebrate.

Motets and Masses

At the time, the French composer’s long career had taken him to the Church of Louis-le-Grand – it still stands in Paris – where he labored for the Jesuits as maître de musique (music master). Charpentier based his Midnight Mass on the melodies of French noëls (Christmas carols), and most of the pieces that comprise it take popular dance forms.

Chabe01, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

But before getting to this music of celebration, the album presents two dramatic motets. One processes with much solemnity, but on the wings of such smooth melodies and rich harmonies, and performed with such expert gravity and vigorous artistry by the musicians and singers of Ensemble Correspondances, its triumphantly devotional conclusion feels fully deserved.

The second motet, In Nativitate Domini N[ost]ri Jesu Christi Canticum, calls for only three high voices and continuo. While less weighty it’s equally beautiful in this immaculate performance.

When the Midnight Mass arrives, we see much of Charpentier’s facility with a variety of rhythms and moods. The music is full of his finely wrought harmonies and, especially in the Credo, carries sustained drama, perhaps even more so than the motets.

The album closes with a Charpentier Te Deum from the same period. Like the In Nativitatem Domini Canticum motet, it calls for the full complement of voices – basses, tenors, altos, sopranos, and an haute-contre voice, a high tenor often called for in French Baroque music. The haute-contre of singer Paco Garcia is heard on this album, notably, as the Angel in the second part of In Nativitatem Domini Canticum.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Messe de Minuit from Ensemble Correspondances is out now.

But Where to Hear Charpentier’s Non-Church Music? In a Church, of Course

Charpentier never managed to displace influential force-of-nature court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully as Louis XIV’s favorite. But Charpentier remains to this day a favorite in the pantheon of the Baroque. For a taste of his secular music, on November 18, 2023 the singers of Yale Voxtet will join forces with early music group the Sebastians in his chamber opera La Couronne de fleurs, with a text by Molière, at Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church near Lincoln Center in New York City. The program, “Voices of Versailles,” will also include music by Lully and by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, the first woman composer in France to compose an opera. Tickets are available online.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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