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GRAMOPHONE (08/2016)
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Reviewer: David Vickers


The manuscript of André Campra’s Messe des morts in the Bibliothèque Nationale does not reveal when or why it was composed. It used to be assumed that it had been written before success as an opera composer forced him to quit his post at Notre-Dame (ie before 1700), but now some scholars suggest it might have been connected to a memorial service in 1724 for the recently deceased Duke Philippe d’Orléans – the regent and cousin of Louis XV and the patron responsible for Campra’s elevation in January 1723 to the shared position of director of Musique de la Chapelle du Roi. If so, it dates from approximately the same period as the solemn grand motet De profundis (1723), and so it makes sense that these two masterpieces are placed alongside each other by Hans Michael Beuerle and ensemble3 vocal et instrumental (a group of professional singers and players assembled from the Rhineland, Alsace, Switzerland and France).


The small band plays subtly, inégales are tastefully relaxed and trills are pointed elegantly. There are subtle colorations from a pair of flutes, such as in the first section of the Agnus Dei (sung gorgeously by Benoît Haller). The choir is honeytoned and luminous, and the soloists are uniformly compelling; I particularly enjoyed the articulate high tenor Rolf Ehlers in the first section of the Graduel. A slightly larger band with more presence at the bottom end might have made more of the intoning bell-like pedal bass notes in the Post-Communion, but there is plenty of warm sonority to accompany the polished delivery of the bass Philip Niederberger in the imploring start of De profundis. As fate had it, Beuerle died shortly after this project, so in a manner of speaking these poignant petitions for eternal rest and perpetual light have become the conductor’s own exequies.


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