Recently in Recordings
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
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06 Feb 2007
CHARPENTIER: Judicium Salomonis, H. 422; Motet pour une longue offrande, H. 434
Neither of these late works (the Judicium Salomonis is from 1702) is new to disc – the former
has two recent recordings, from ten and from twenty years ago, and the latter one, by Herreweghe, released in 1985.
Thus the incentive for the buyer is not simply the chance to hear
unknown repertoire, but must be the innate quality of the performance. And here, surprisingly,
because one would think that Christie would be supremely at home in this repertoire, the disc is
not compelling. In part, this may be because the works themselves sound somewhat bureaucratic,
and indeed they were commissioned to flatter the members of the Parlement, provincial
magistrates, meeting in Paris at the Palais de Justice. The focus in the former is not on the intense
human drama (stolen children are a perennial subject for soap operas, and the prime focus of a
novela in Brazil based on an actual recent case), but on the brilliance of Solomon's solution, and,
by extension, the exalted intellect of the gathered magistrates. And so there is a unexpected
emphasis on the excellent government of the king, the rejoicing of the people, songs of praise
with harps, cymbals, organs, etc. Charpentier makes Solomon an haute-contre, since he must
reserve the bass voice, always the sound of mature and reasonable thought, for God. Paul Agnew seems unwarrantedly emotional as Solomon, with ever-present vibrato which detracts rather than adds to his impact. Christie goes badly wrong in allotting the part of the False Mother to a male haute-contre, something which verges on Monty-Pythonian draggery. Surely if Solomon could
tell that she were bad simply by listening to her sing, he would not have needed his wisdom to
frame a question which would identify the true mother. The motet which fills out the disc has
occasional moments (the orchestral prelude depicting the slings and arrows raining down on the
heads of sinners) but as a whole this long offertory is simply too long, without enough invention
to hold the listener's interest to the end. The sound recording does not help matters, with the solo voices considerably and unnaturally to the front of the orchestra (in the moments when
Charpentier contrasts the winds – flutes and bassoon – with the full string band the flutes are almost inaudible). A disc I wish I could like more.