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'Messe de Minuit' with a Canadian Twist
on 29 April 2004
I was particularly pleased to get this CD because I had just sung in apresentation of Charpentier's 'Messe de Minuit pour Noël' this pastChristmas season and had been really knocked sideways by the piece. I'dnever heard it before but it was love at first run-through, largelybecause it is so unpretentious, so joyous, so bewitching that it wouldtake a heart of stone to dislike it.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) probably wrote the Messe forChristmas 1694 - three hundred years ago! - using several French carols asits basis. Most of those carols are not well-known to us (although thefirst one used, 'Joseph est bien marié') is pretty familiar), but I canonly imagine that for parishioners of the time the parade of beloved tunesmade the mass a joy to hear. And it is possibly with that in mind that inthis recording the Canadian choral group Aradia inserted into the 'Christeeleison' a substitution that would particularly have appealed to theirCanadian audiences. What they did was take Charpentier's treatment of theFrench carol 'Une jeune pucelle' ('A Young Virgin') and replace the usualFrench words with a text from the Huron language ('Estennialon detsonwe'), a version known in Canada simply as 'The Huron Carol.' What adelightful touch! It does not alter Charpentier's music, but it gives aregional cast to the performance that I found puzzling at first(particularly since Keith Anderson's booklet notes make absolutely nomention of the substitution) but then utterly charming. I gather there isa tradition of doing this sort of thing in this populist mass. The musicof the mass itself is quintessentially French baroque: transparency, lotsof dotted rhythms, homophonic textures mingling with limpid counterpointand, most of all, a lack of stolidity so common to German baroque sacredmusic of the time. I can tell you that when the choir I belong to wasfirst preparing it we broke down into giggles more than once. It's thatlight-hearted. I do not know any other recordings of the work and thus canmake no comparisons; I see that it has been recorded by Les ArtsFlorissants and others. I will only say that I found this performanceentirely satisfying.
Also included on the disc are the 'Te Deum' which is filled withceremonial flourishes from trumpets and drums, and one of Charpentier'ssettings of the 'Dixit Dominus,' listed as H. 204. (The H. denotes thelisting of Charpentier's works by the distinguished American musicologist,H. Wiley Hitchcock.) The performances are beguiling.
Aradia, a group of singers and period instrumentalists based in Toronto,specializes in early music and is under the expert direction of KevinMallon.