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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb French baroque collection, 7 Sep 2013
Stephen Midgley (Tarbrax, West Calder, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Requiem, Lamentations, Te Deum, Messe en Re, Motet (Audio CD)
This is a re-issue of three very fine recordings of the sacred music of Jean Gilles (1668-1705), who died tragically young at the age of 36. First of all the Requiem, his best-known work, was highly respected and much performed in the 18th century, serving at the funerals of Rameau and Louis XV among others. It is indeed one of the great masterpieces of the French baroque, more than worthy to stand alongside the Requiem masses of Campra and Charpentier, for example. It's a graceful and beautifully structured work, appropriately sad but full of good tunes, with moments of hope and elation amidst the mourning. The start of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are among many examples of the composer's melodic gift.

This fine performance by French soloists, Choeur de Chambre Les Éléments, and the period-instrument Orchestre Les Passions directed by Jean-Marc Andrieu, is at least equal to the very best I have heard. Its first great asset is the omission of the extremely tedious drumbeats which were added, long after Gilles' death, by an unknown hand for the occasion of Rameau's funeral in 1764 and which continued to deface the very start of the Introit in most performances and, more recently, recordings. These and the other tasteless and unnecessary trumpet and drum parts added later are all deleted, the work is here restored to its original form and is very much the better for it. So the atmosphere from the start is not one of ominous pomposity, but of sadness, devotion and consolation.

The entire performance by Jean-Marc Andrieu and his forces is stylish and affecting. The soloists are excellent with, among others, Alain Buet an especially fine bass-baritone with plenty to do here. The work is coupled with Gilles' dramatic and colourful 'grand motet' "Cantate Jordanis incolae", another excellent example of grand siècle baroque. Its section "Redemit Christus" (track 12) is another of many examples of Gilles' graceful melodies.

There have been other good recordings of the Requiem, including Herreweghe's second version (on Harmonia Mundi Gilles: Requiem; Diligam te Domine) which, apart from its unfortunate use of those intrusive timpani parts at the start and elsewhere, is otherwise very fine indeed, with excellent soloists. Personally, I would now count the present recording under Andrieu as my first choice, at least of the ones I've heard.

Next we have Gilles' Mass in D of which, surprisingly, this is the only recording available so far. It's every bit as fine a work as the Requiem. In fact it's a revelation - the French baroque at its very best, rich in melody, varied in texture, graceful and expressive. In addition to the many sonorous choral and orchestral passages there are rich pickings for the soloists, in the form of lovely concerted passages such as an entertaining trio of basses, or a noble and graceful "Qui tollis peccata mundi" section with a highly decorated melodic line, beautifully and affectingly sung by tenor Jean-FranÁois Novelli. The choir, as well as the soloists, bring style, commitment and conviction to their singing; French pronunciation of the Latin texts adds to the authentic feel of the performance.

My only complaint would be that the incantations at the start of the Gloria and Credo, although present in the booklet, are missing on the disc, with the result that the former begins with the words "et in terra pax" and the latter with "Patrem omnipotentem". This is absolute nonsense, since everybody knows that the introductory incantations need to be supplied if they are not already set to music. Surely it couldn't have been all that difficult, so it's extraordinary that neither producer nor conductor remembered to get this done.

The coupled Te Deum is also a splendid work, varied and colourful, with a rhetorical power in the best traditions of the French baroque. It, too, is full of good tunes, as in "Pleni sunt caeli" (track 19); there's lovely tenor-countertenor duetting in "Te gloriosus" (20) and strikingly colourful instrumentation in "Tu devicto" (23).

Jean-Marc Andrieu, together with his Choeur de Chambre Les Éléments and period-instrument Orchestre Les Passions, have been making a speciality of Jean Gilles, and on the evidence of the present set the composer's work richly deserves their stylish and dedicated attention. So these very fine recordings of the above works, and of the Lamentations on the remaining disc, make an excellent and enterprising collection of baroque sacred music.

Booklet notes are also excellent, but are poorly translated into English. All texts are given.
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