Choeur & Orchestre de La Chapelle Royale
========= from the cover ==========
Originally composed for the funeral of the dauphine, Princess Marie-Anne-Christine-Victoire of Bavaria, on May 1, 1690, this remarkable setting of Dies irae was revised in 1711, either because of the dauphin's death, or that of Lalande's two daughters, both distinguished sopranos ; all died from smallpox within a period of six weeks. Lully's setting of Dies irae, for the death of the queen in 1683, had shown the possibilities of this text as a grand motet for soloists, choirs and orchestra. But it was Lalande, seven years later, who developed the concept, and produced a much more striking result - perhaps the first setting of Dies irae in the history of music where the composer exploited in such dramatic style the contrasts inherent in the 18 rhyming stanzas and final couplet of this 13th-century poem. This work ably demonstrates Lalande's penchant for the more reflective and sombre, calling forth an impressive musical response. His strong formal sense is shown in the musical design which is organised so as to group the 18 stanzas in four groups each of four, framing a central group of two. The two larger groups nearer the centre are each assigned to a solo voice (haute-contre, then baritone) while the others employ a variety of solo and choral textures.
The composer employs a wide variety of musical resource with which to adorn these structures. The traditional plainsong, sung by the chorus sopranos, marks both the opening Dies irae and the concluding Pie Jesu, in each case introduced by a web of counterpoint of awesome beauty. Stark moments, such as Quantus tremor and Mors stupebit are portrayed in homophonic outbursts punctuated by silences, while the drama of Tuba mirum is declaimed by the baritone to a background of rapidly repeated chords in the orchestra, a device increasingly used by the composer and his contemporaries to denote death, fear, storm, the sea, and other dramatic phenomena. Harmonic sequences of great intensity underline the passionate texts of Quid sum miser and Lacrimosa, descending melodic leaps characterize the fervent pleading of Oro supplex, while an impressive alternation of grand choeur a 5 and high-voice petit choeur a 3, depict a dramatic Confutatis maledictis and a passionate Voca me cum benedictis. Altogether, such imaginative treatment of this text was highly original and a landmark in baroque sacred music.
The only extant source of the work forms part of the private library of M Robert Lutz of Strasbourg. This copy, reflecting the revised version, and dated 1739, is in the usual eighteenth-century form of partition reduite, lacking the three viola parts, but these have been newly reconstituted by the present editor. The manuscript retains the names of the original cast of 1690, all celebrated court singers of the time. The sopranos were the famous castrati, "Antonio" [Bagniera] and Antonio Favalli, and the falsetto Jean-Baptiste Matho (the deceased dauphine's singing teacher), the hautes-contre Jean Jonquet l'aine and Charles Dumoussel, the tenor Gatien Courcier, the baritones Jacques Bastaron and Antoine Maurel (Morel) and the bass, Jacques d'Estival. Of these, the most colourful was Bagniera. Born in Switzerland in 1638, and son of a Swiss Guard at the court of Louis XIV, he was an outstanding boy singer in the choir of the royal chapel. After an operation which scandalised the king, Bagniera became the doyen of the chapel castrati until the age of 82 ; in retirement, he survived to the age of 102 ! Possessed of a voice notable for its "prodigious volume" and "extreme beauty", he was also, sadly, "endowed with the most grotesque body" (from the memoirs of another chapel singer, Marc-Francois Beche).
Of all Lalande's motets, his Miserere settings attracted most attention from his contemporaries. Alexandre Tannevot wrote, in 1728 : "What expressiveness is lavished on most of his solos ! And who cannot fail to be moved when he hears the Sacrificium Deo... the Amplius lava me...". In 1754, the Abbe Laugier asked : "Can one... ever express more affectingly the deep pain of a penitent soul, than in the Sacrificium Deo of [Lalande's] Miserere ? No one has pushed further the art of melody and its accompaniment... his choruses are usually most happily conceived... when they are well-performed, the effect is astonishing." The earliest of Lalande's several versions of the Miserere, his first grand motet setting (Philidor MSS, Ms. Mus. 8, Bibl. mun. de Versailles), was his response to a text made famous by Lully's version, so admired by Louis XIV. Composed in 1687, the same year the despotic Surintendant had died, was it a tribute to him, despite all he had done to frustrate the young Lalande's career ? Later, towards 1700, Lalande adapted the work, completely rewriting some sections, while omitting alternate movements so as to employ plainchant alternating to produce a Miserere a voix seule. Later still, nearer 1720, he made a thorough revision of the earlier grand motet, employing some of the changes made for the petit motet, and substantially rewriting the remainder (Cauvin MSS, Ms mus 219, Bibl. mun. de Versailles); this is the version recorded here.
This, the most substantial of all his grands motets, like several of the composer's most impressive works (including the Dies irae), is in the key of C minor. The work opens with the tripartite design used in several of Lalande's motets where the same thematic material is shared by an opening prelude, a solo recit (in this case, for soprano) and a grand choeur. Many poignant and expressive moments are assigned to solo voices, giving the composer freer rein to add melismas and ornamentation to the vocal line and to the instrumental obbligati, and, as we have seen, it is these movements which attracted the enthusiastic approval of the composer's contemporaries. The ostinato structures of the soprano solos, Amplius lava me and Asperges me hyssopo may be noted, as must be the heroic writing for haute-contre in Redde mihi and especially in Domine, labia mea. The final recit, Sacrificium Deo, for baritone, is distinguished by its introduction of 24 bars for full orchestra, which accompanies the soloist throughout this powerfully expressive movement. Of the choruses, one must admire not only the "hidden things of wisdom" a deux choeurs, the expressive brevity of Averte faciem tuam, and the linear strength of Docebo iniquos. but also the remarkable tour deforce of the finale, its frenzied orchestral accompaniment without parallel in the entire output of the composer.
-Lionel Sawkins, 1991