Missa Assumpta est Maria, the last of Charpentier's many mass settings, written about 1700, is considered his greatest work in the genre, and this splendid recording by Hervé Niquet supports that assessment. The mass offers further evidence that Charpentier, whose music was virtually unknown except to scholars until the late twentieth century, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the most exceptional Baroque composers. His music was controversial during his lifetime, and he wrote of his discouragement that he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, which gives it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.
This mass is notable for the warmth of Charpentier's choral and vocal writing, which often has an intensity and harmonic richness that practically give it a Romantic character, particularly in movements like Et incarnatus, from the Credo. Niquet's performance, with five soloists and the choir and orchestra of Le Concert Spirituel, beautifully captures the range of the music's luminous expressiveness while attending to the exquisite details of mid-Baroque French ornamentation and performance practice. The sound of the choir is large and warm, but always pure, with a lovely blend, and it plays intriguingly against the sometimes astringent timbres of the period instruments. The soloists sing with clean and focused tone. Niquet interpolates several other Charpentier works to liturgically fill out the mass, including an instrumental Offertory, an Elevation, a prayer for the King, a motet for dismissal, and a remarkable four-minute motet for unaccompanied bass voice following the Gloria, a setting taken mostly from an extended passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Glossa's sound is clear and ideally resonant.