Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Elastic, buoyant, ravishing music

This new CD from Glossa, to be released on April 29, 2016, was recorded at the Bela Bartok Concert Hall in Budapest with Hungarian singers, instrumentalists and conductor, but it sounds as authentically French as any recent recording I've heard. This is gorgeous music, and it's hard to believe it's not as popular as Rameau or Handel. In fact, I believe three of these Grands Motets are recording premieres, though there's no indication on the album cover.

Jean-Joseph de Mondonville was born, or at least baptized, on Christmas Day, 1711, which puts him in the generation behind Jean-Philippe Rameau. He was relatively productive as an instrumental and stage composer, but my favourite of his works are the sacred Grands Motets, only nine of which have survived. Judging by the quality of this music, the missing eight Motets are a great loss to the world of music. Of the four Motets included on this disc only one, De profundis, a setting of Psalm 129 from 1748, has been recorded before, as far as I can tell. This work is included in both Edward Higginbottom's 1999 Hyperion disc with Oxford New College Choir, and William Christie's 1997 Erato disc with Les Arts Florissants. I wish I could play the Purcell Choir version, but it's not available on Spotify yet. But I wanted those who don't know Mondonville's Motets to hear what ravishing music this is:

I actually much prefer the Purcell Choir/Orfeo Orchestra version under György Vashegyi to Christie's, as fine as it is. This new disc is fresher and lighter and more alive. Mondonville has such a dancing sound, "the rhythmical elasticity and buoyancy" in John Eliot Gardiner's words, of Baroque music. I like to think that after a hard day at the Concert Spirituel, Mondonville would take his wig off, let his hair down, and play some jazz with his friends. You can hear it in this music.

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