The music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) is undergoing something of a reassessment. During his lifetime he languished in the shadow of Lully’s monopoly and influence at the French court, and many of his operas and much of his theatrical music are lost.
Miserere des Jésuites was composed for the household of Marie de Guise, who supported Charpentier for nearly twenty years. This penitential Psalm has a beautiful structure. Lionel Meunier’s introduction, with viol and organ, led to the most-gorgeous of musical conversations in a six-part display of outward and inward contrition. The startling feature was the prominence and role of female voices, with lovely suspensions, emphasising an exceptionally sweet tone, and emotionally direct. Reinoud Van Mechelen was also outstanding. The Litanies de la Vierge highlights the dramatic sincerity of Charpentier’s music in more contemplative mood.
The two-Act opera, La descente d'Orphée aux enfers, found the singers joined by the flutes, harpsichord and viols of A Nocte Temporis. As Orpheus, Van Mechelen’s purity of tone and seamless legato was balanced by elegant decoration which gave a melancholy and always-human edge to Charpentier’s evocation of this tale. The devilish male trio of Ixion, Tantalus and Tityus, led by Meunier, introduces an intentional jarring note balanced by the honeyed tones of Euridice, Caroline Weynants, and the Enone of Stephanie True. Geoffrey Buffière’s Pluto added gravitas. This unfinished opera concludes with the chorus describing Orpheus’s power (as translated): “this touching voice, which ravishes us and enchants”, which serves to describe the special quality of Vox Luminis.