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GRAMOPHONE (07/2022)
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Château de Versailles

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Reviewer :
David Vickers

Three years after moving to Paris, the violinist Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville began his long association with the Concert Spirituel on Palm Sunday 1734. Over the next few decades, he overtook Lalande as the concert series’ statistically most popular composer.

Dominus regnavit (1734) was performed several times annually at the Concert Spirituel until 1758, and thereafter revived from time to time up to 1772. Gaétan Jarry’s deliberate pacing of the opening chorus is probably on account of the spacious acoustic of the chapel at Versailles. Likewise, the vivid pictorialism of tempestuous floods in the chorus ‘Elevaverunt flumina’ is reduced a little by pragmatism amid generous reverberation. The plangent male trio ‘Etenim firmavit orbem terrae’ could afford to be gentler, although suspensions have fulsome sensuality. The soprano duet ‘Parata sedes tua ex tunc’, scored sparsely for interjections from weightless violins and oboes without bass, is spot on. Shifting contrasts between slow beauty and florid gracefulness during the soprano solo ‘Testimonia tua’ are the closest that Mondonville sounds to Rameau.

Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei (1749) and In exitu Israel (1753) were both first heard privately at the home of Mme la Dauphine, and afterwards given many times at the Concert Spirituel throughout the 1750s and 1760s. There is cheerful nonchalance in the opening of ‘Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei’ (‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’), nearly half a century before similar lines came to Haydn’s attention. Baritone David Witczak might have strived for intimacy instead of forcefulness in a depiction of sunrise (‘In sole posuit tabernaculum suum’), although this segues into a beguiling sequence of a slowly rising cantus firmus spread across the choir (‘Exultavit ut gigas’). Fast repeated notes describing the Red Sea are navigated with admirably quick agility in In exitu Israel. The aria ‘Montes exultaverunt ut arietes’ (featuring divided bassoons) is sung ardently by high tenor Mathias Vidal. Witczak brings rousing swagger in tandem with exclamatory choir (‘Qui convertit petram’), and there are Italianate elements in the string-laden soprano aria ‘Qui timent Dominum’.

The Orchestre Marguerite Louise is large enough to convey spirited passages with vigorous heft (such as abundant imagery of storms), yet their playing is transparent and elegant regarding details of instrumentation. The choir sing with searing majesty or warm sensuality, as required. Jarry’s shapely direction yields engrossing interpretations of Mondonville’s imaginative and theatrically expressive grands motets.

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