Usually associated with Central European repertoire, here Goebel and his musicians turn to the music of one of the great French composers to be active during the second half of the 17th century. In the past twenty years, Charpentier's music has undergone a renaissance – and not just in France – so I suppose it was only a matter of time before Goebel addressed it, even though he is following in the footsteps of Charpentier specialists such as William Christie.
To do so, he has had to beef up MAK. Thirty-five instrumentalists are listed in the booklet, plus a vocal ensemble of eight singers. Those familiar with earlier MAK discs know that Goebel often contents himself with half as many players. Goebel writes about "the terrifying demands of the Messe in terms of the number of musicians involved." This 21-minute work, a descendant of the so-called organ mass, was unprecedented and not subsequently imitated. As its name suggests, a large corps of woodwinds and strings takes the place of the organ. There are many short movements, and the emphasis is on contrasts: loud versus soft, fast versus stately, woodwind tone versus string tone. It's an impressive work, but as Goebel writes, it is "neither instantly memorable nor readily digestible." It is for that reason that it is good to have it on CD, where its splendors manifest themselves over time. Really, the same holds true for all the music on this CD. Charpentier was a true intellectual, and his music has a complex beauty often missing from that of his rival Lully, for example. He was not appreciated during his lifetime, and discs such as the present one give us the opportunity to right that wrong.
MAK is an "authentic instruments" ensemble with many recordings to its credit. In the past, they have been accused of pushing some of their repertoire too hard, but here, everything goes well, and there's an unhurried majesty to these performances that makes them seem quite glorious. The astringency heard on some of Goebel's discs is not evident here. The engineering is clean and rather secular – that is to say, there's not a lot of churchy reverberation to savor.
My copy of this CD came with a bonus disc celebrating MAK's 25 years with Archiv. It contains excerpts from nine earlier recordings. I don't know how long this bonus will be offered, but it contains some of MAK's most daring recordings, including a Brandenburg Concerto #3 that is so fast and furious that it beggars description.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle