CD Review: Les Épopées’ ‘Grand Motets’

By Bob Dieschburg

Illustrated, on the cover, with a close-up of Leonardo’s world-famous Salvator Mundi, the newest installment in Les Épopées’ series of “Grands Motets” is superlative, both in scope and in terms of its execution.

Titled “Benedictus,” after Lully’s composition from 1685, it features four more motets, including one by Henri Du Mont which together make for a stunning fresco of French Royal liturgy and the ceremonies for which they were composed.

Under the magisterial baton of Stéphane Fuget they moreover sound fresher than any I have heard on competing labels before; notational intricacies are being dealt with extreme care while the ensemble’s rhythmic flexibility precludes every risk, not insubstantial in this repertoire, of veering towards the monolithic.

Royal Liturgy

The program opens with the rather short hymn of “Plaude, laetare Gallia,” written by Lully for the christening of the Grand Dauphin at the Palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1668. It is divided into three movements which, in order, combine the celebratory opening with a description of the sacrament, “Sacro Delphinus fonte lavatur,” and an exalted final “Vivat.”

The piece is followed by the “Magnificat” of Henri Du Mont, sous-maître to the musical establishment known as Chapelle Royale.

Set to the words of Luke 1:46-55, it shows all the hallmarks of Du Mont’s novel style of composition: The polyphony of the a cappella tradition is supplemented by orchestral writing and a petit chœur of singers now dialoguing with the main choir.

The album proceeds with the title-giving “Benedictus,” another laud or song of thanksgiving based on the Gospel of Luke. Heralding the coming of the Lord it is, in Lully’s treatment, a superb pièce de résistance as it contrapuntally melds the voices of choir and soloists.

The release is rounded off by the short “Domine salvum fac regem” which – the booklet explains – was set to conclude religious services since the reign of Louis XIII, and the dramatic “Notus in Judaea Deus,” representative of Lully’s final manner.

A Magnum Opus

Not unexpectedly Les Épopées retrieve the same level of uncompromising care for the effervescent soundscapes of Lully and Du Mont as in previous installments in the “Grand Motets” series.

Fuget is a dynamic conductor under whose baton every figure, as trivial as may be, assumes a life of its own. He is helped by an excellent performance of the choir, curated by Baroque specialist Lucile de Trémiolles, and as established a tenor as Marco Angioloni in “Plaude, laetare Gallia,” who among many others, gives extra luster to this highly accomplished release.


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