Charpentier Te Deum Messe de minuit MinkowskiMarc-Antoine Charpentier – Te Deum, Messe de minuit
Annick Massis, soprano; Magdalena Kožená, mezzosoprano; Eric Huchet, countertenor; Patrick Henckens, countertenor; Russell Smythe, baritone, Jean-Louis Bindi, bass
Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre
on authentic instruments
Marc Minkowski, conductor
Archiv, 1997

Te Deum and Messe de Minuit: Composition

Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed four settings of the Te Deum, all echoing the French grand motet. The most famous of them, dating from the early 1670, is the most sumptuous one. It requires eight soloists, chorus, woodwinds, trumpets, timpani and strings, with reminiscence of Lully and Lalande. It has been composed in D major, a «joyous and martial» key according to the Règles de composition, a brief treatise Charpentier composed for his pupil, the Duke of Chartres.

The Messe de minuit H. 9 is one of the eleven Masses Charpentier composed to celebrate Christmas and dates approximatively from the early 1690s. The peculiarity of the Messe is that Charpentier used eleven popular Christmas tunes usually prohibited during the Mass (the so-called noëls) to compose it, again imitating Lalande, who used the noëls in his Symphonies des Noël. Charpentier’s recourse to the noëls is documented also for another composition, the Noëls sur les instruments.

It was an excellent decision to record together these two wonderful works because they highlight two different kind of inspiration for Charpentier’s sacred music: with the Te Deum, the listener is surrounded by the booming sound of a magnificent celebration and by music that has been composed to praise the Lord with an explosion of gratitude and bliss, but when the Te Deum is over, the more intimate and private joy expressed by the Messe begins and with it a serene reflection on the birth of the Lord. The two works are therefore the two sides of the same coin and allow the listener to explore extensively Charpentier’s sacred music.

Te Deum and Messe de Minuit: the Performance

The performance of Te Deum and Messe is of very high quality from any point of view. Conductor Marc Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre with refinement and firmness and carries out a striking performance. The magnificent music of the Te Deum is lavishly played (it is enough to remember the renowned marche en rondeau that opens the composition and that it is played as a powerful calling of the devotees to a glorious event). The Messe is definitely quieter and Minkowski stresses very well its inner joy, making it an intimate piece.

Furthermore, the conductor is surrounded by first rate soloists, the most illustrious names being those of Annick Massis and Magdalena Kožená, and by the fine Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre. All of them contribute to the high standard of both compositions. It is worth remember at least the wonderful entry of the warm and expressive voice of the baritone soon after the short orchestral “prelude” of the Te Deum, the charming combination of the voices of Massis and Kožená, that are listened together many times, and the enthusiasm and vigour revealed by the chorus.

In the end, Te Deum and Messe de minuit find here one of their finest executions and this is one of the best recording that a lover of Baroque music can wish for.