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Sébastien de Brossard: Grands Motets.
23 Jan 2007

BROSSARD: Grands Motets

Sébastien de Brossard (1655-1730) was, until recently, known to the musical world (if he was known at all) as a lexicographer (he prepared the first French musical dictionary, published in 1703) and collector, whose collection went entire, together with a catalogue he prepared, to the National Library in Paris, something which must have been almost unheard of in early eighteenth-century Europe, though commonplace today (imagine if Bach had managed to do the same with his scores!).

Sébastien de Brossard: Grands Motets.

Ensemble Baroque de Limoges;Accentus Chamber Choir; Christophe Coin, conductor.


$16.99  Click to buy

Over the last decade the works, chiefly vocal, of this seemingly peripheral figure, who spent his career in Strasbourg and Meaux, have been published in modern editions.

This superb disc by Coin and company, reissued here after its initial release on Astrée in 1997, presents the three grand motets by the composer. In Convertendo, on a text also used by Rameau, is an almost twenty-minute long piece full of joyful, dancing music to reflect the end of Israel's captivity (“then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with joy”). The style is reminiscent of Charpentier, with obligato flutes and oboes added to the strings of the orchestra, or indeed of Purcell’s choral works from the same decade. The Miserere is a text for Holy Week, altogether darker in character. The largest piece here is the Canticum Eucharisticum Pro Pace (Eucharistic Song for Peace) written to celebrate the treaty making Strasbourgh officially a part of France in 1698, a work of more than forty minutes, built on a text selecting verses from various parts of the bible. The compositional challenge here is to create a work with a structure to support such length, setting a lengthy text with no narrative, and no inherent structure, and within an idiom which is closer to the style of the verse anthem than to the cantata or oratorio with discrete numbers varying in character, orchestration, number of performers etc. In spite of the problematic character of the text, Philidor creates much memorable music, especially the spirited Amen which closes the work.

Not every listener will be attracted to these motets, which demand close attention to the interaction of musical setting and text to be appreciated (you can’t simply close your eyes and let the music wash over you), but Coin’s interpretations, and the excellent singing and playing by his forces, show an original and interesting composer, capable, fresh, tuneful, worth getting to know. (A tiny quibble: setting the text of the booklet in small blue type on a black background was not calculated to make it readable – rather the reverse).

Tom Moore

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