Racine: Cantiques spirituels.
Pascal Collasse, like both Marais and D'Anglebert, was a pupil of Lully and closely associated with the Paris Opera. Indeed, he is best known to posterity for the hours he spent as Lully's hack, filling in the parties de remplissage of his teacher's operas. It is also claimed that he gained his post at the Chapelle Royale in the competition of 1683 only through Lully's powerful surport. A new CD of Cantiques spirituels de jean Racine (Astrde/Auvidis E8756, rec 1992) gives us a chance to correct that impression and to conclude that history's assessment of him has been hard. Collasse's four Cantiques are charming lyrical works in the Lullian mould, and take the form of recitatives and airs interspersed with instrumental symphonies. Collasse set them for the Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr and thus wrote for female voices only. Le Concert Royal adopt a decidedly operatic approach, taking into account the fact that (according to the liner note) during the Baroque period the French language had far greater dynamics than it has today', and explaining that The Demoiselles had been trained in declamation by the author [Racine] himself, who made them into excellent actresses'. It is a performance which comes from the heart, full of the humanity and personality of the performers; however, this does not always make for homogeneity. Isabelle Poulenard is particularly notable for a wide emotional range which she is not afraid to use. The mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Mayeur and the second reorder have some intonation problems, and the former has a wide vibrato which may not be to all tastes. Every possible combination of the continuo resources (gamba, organ, harpsichord and theorbo) are employed in rapid succession; the 8' and 4' flutes on the organ push it strongly to the foreground. Le Concert Royal's impassioned creativity makes one wonder whether the group were perhaps too concerned that their basic sound might pall.