Charpentier: Te Deum (CD review)

Also, Grand Office des Morts. William Christie, Les Arts Florissants. Virgin Classics 7243 5 45733 2.

If the opening "Marche de timbales" in Charpentier's Te Deum doesn't set your blood to racing, you probably don't have a heart big enough to appreciate the music. If that sounds like a typically snobby statement from a classical-music critic, so be it. But, really, I'm neither a snob nor a music expert; I just love those drums! I mean, they sound great, all the more so from a live recording. If you've been following this site for long, you know I don't usually like live recordings. So this is an exception.

Incidentally, speaking of good sound, do people still show off their audio systems the way they used to? Or does everyone nowadays deal only in home theaters and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 this and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 that, with 800-foot 3-D projector screens between their main, front speakers? I dunno. But, as I say, this Charpentier disc is one of the few live recordings I've really enjoyed.

French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) wrote his Te Deum in D major, H. 146, somewhere in the late seventeenth century, the date is uncertain, for soloists, choir, and orchestral accompaniment. Since the opening section has a distinctly martial tone, he probably wrote it to commemorate a military victory, something folks today might consider a bit odd in what is primarily a sacred piece of music. Yet when you consider the relationship between religion and war over the years (especially as recounted in the Old Testament), maybe it isn't so unusual.

In any case, Charpentier's grand, elegant music could not find itself in better hands than those of William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants ensemble, as refined and polished a group of performers as exist anywhere in the musical world. The funny thing is, though, that as elegant as Christie and his performer are, they produce an unrestrained rendition of the music, full of Technicolor excitement. The choral singing is flawless; the instrumental playing is impeccable; and Virgin's engineers capture the results in the smoothest live sound one could imagine.

OK, granted not everyone appreciates a good Mass, a good celebration of and praise to God, and that's what this music is all about. But since most of us can't understand Latin, anyhow, it probably doesn't matter what they're singing. Just enjoy the voices and the instruments, which blend together almost preternaturally. And what a lovely ambient glow there is in the hall, without a trace of ringing or dulling, remarkable, as I say, considering the live recording.

In addition, the disc includes the Grand Office des Morts, a compilation of three pieces that Charpentier probably never meant as a whole. Yet it works wonderfully well. The package comes with good, concise booklet notes, too, with song texts in Latin, French, English, and German.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa