A contemporary of Lully and Lalande, Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) was something of an outsider to the French court of Louis XIV, which helps to explain his comparative obscurity. A period of study in Rome doubtless gave Charpentier exposure to the polychoral style long-established from the time of Gabrieli, and this recording presents the triple-choir Salve Regina alongside the opulent Messe à quatre chœurs – written for four separate choirs, with a large continuo team of four organs, four theorbos, bass viol and great bass viol! The possibilities opened up by such a wealth of musicians engender music which seems as close to the proverbial “choir of the angels of heaven” as could be desired.
The disc also includes Salut de la veille des ‘O’, settings of the seven antiphons for Christmas which implore God to come and save the earth, and the dramatic mini-oratorio Le reniement de St Pierre, telling of Peter’s frantic denials of Christ before the inevitable crowing of the cock.
‘Jeffrey Skidmore and his ensemble’s expertise has long been established and is everywhere apparent here. The blend of the vocal line is superb and the handling of ornament is little short of breathtaking. In short, an issue to treasure.’ (BBC Music Magazine)
‘It is really spendid to have the Messe a quatre choeurs in a thoroughly involving historically informed performance at last. Skidmore leaves no stone unturned in his exploration of its quadraphonic charms…eloquent soloists [are] drawn from the ranks of the choir. And what a choir, gutsy when required, but flexible enough to cope with Charpentier’s ever-changing choiral configurations … this is a thrilling release, and I heartily recommend it.’ (International Record Review)
‘The opening is arresting – the polished Ex Cathedra immerse themselves thoroughly in this beautifully wrought art.’ (The Sunday Times)
‘Skidmore once again demonstrates his total empathy with French Baroque repertoire, inspiring his large choral forces to performances that capture a huge gamut of emotions ranging from thrilling grandeur to heartbreaking sublimity. The issue is a magnificent achievement all round.’ (Fanfare, USA)
‘Ex Cathedra’s choirs and soloists sound ravishing … Skidmore’s conducting results in a performance containing breadth and relaxed phrasing, which in turn allow emotion to shine through the complex polyphony.’ (Goldberg)
‘The brilliance of this work is expertly captured by Ex Cathedra directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. The choral sound is excellent, whether in the well-managed polychoral exchanges or in the full passages, and the solo singing is very accomplished.’ (Early Music, OUP)