Ensemble Correspondances brings polish and esprit to Charpentier program

Mon Dec 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm
Ensemble Correspondances performed Sunday at Corpus Christ Church for Music Before 1800. Photo: Molina Visuals

Ensemble Correspondances performed Sunday at Corpus Christi Church for Music Before 1800. Photo: Molina Visuals

New York is well into the holiday season, with performances of Messiah dominating the calendar. Handel might technically fall within the purview of Music Before 1800, the baroque music presenter based at Corpus Christi Church in Morningside Heights, but his music is far more mainstream than their usual programming. 

For their Christmas concert on Sunday afternoon, Music Before 1800 turned instead to Marc-Antoine Charpentier, hosting an excellent performance by the French baroque group, Ensemble Correspondances.

The first half of Sunday’s concert was made up of the Antiennes “O” de l’Avent, a set of antiphons for Advent, taking their name from the exclamatory “O” that begins each prayer. In all of these Antiennes, the work from the continuo musicians was impressive, as they played with tight ensemble and perfect intonation, crafting breathing phrases in support of the singers, under the direction of Sébastien Daucé, who contributed crisp playing on the harpsichord and organ.

There were several chances for individual singers to show off in these mostly short works: Nicolas Brooymans stood out in “O Salutaris” for his powerful, gravelly bass, suitable both for plaintive entreaty and grand declamation. The most distinctive voice in the ensemble belonged to Lucile Richardot, whose mezzo-soprano is so dark and full she sounded at times almost like a tenor. The startling richness of her chest voice was on display in “O Adonai” and “O sacramentum pietatis.” This robust, earthy tone was made all the more remarkable by the contrast she showed in the first stanza of “In nativitatem,” where an initial misty quality over the hushed accompaniment of viola da gamba and theorbo opened into a pealing, bright upper range.

Ensemble Correspondances boasts a fresh sound and vibrant mix of voices overall. “Or nous dites Marie” featured the full complement of singers, contrasting sections against each other: one verse featured the pure brightness of the female voices, followed in the next by hazy warmth from the men, before both were subtly weaved together into a rich mesh in the final stanzas.

The latter half of Sunday’s program was Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de notre Seignur Jésus-Christ, a cantata portraying the appearance of the angel to the shepherds announcing the birth of Christ. Where the Antiennes are mostly cheerful in disposition, the Pastorale is more melancholy, at least at first, beginning with expressions of deep longing for absolution. Baritone Etienne Bazola stood out here for his firm sound and confident delivery as the Elder who reassures the shepherds of their promised deliverance.

The continuo played with soft warmth in the “Simphonie de la Nuit,” moving into the second scene of the cantata, a jubilant chorus depicting the appearance of the messenger angel (sung with a beaming soprano by Caroline Weynants). 

Throughout Sunday’s concert, Ensemble Correspondances showed exceptional polish, using precise dynamics to carve out shapely phrases and energizing the music by emphasizing the interplay of competing voices. This was nowhere more evident than in the cantata’s closing scene, which contrasted the soft mourning of two shepherdesses over one of their flock with the buoyant joy of the rest of their company on first hearing the news of Christ’s birth.

Music Before 1800 presents the Academy of Sacred Drama 4 p.m. January 13, 2019, at Corpus Christi Church. mb1800.org

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