Exultate Choir / Thomas D. Rossin

Théodore Dubois: The Seven Last Words of Christ

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This release from Minnesota is something of an amateur affair. Haydn's name is misspelled in the booklet notes, and the design is minimal. The chorus Exultate has unearthed an unusual and intriguing item here, however, and devotees of French music should check it out. Théodore Dubois won the Prix de Rome in 1861 and went on to a sterling career that included nine years as director of the Paris Conservatory. He wrote, as annotator Yvonne Grover pointed out, in the academic style, and he is almost forgotten today. But his Seven Last Words of Christ setting is shown to be worth reviving in this little performance. The ingenuity comes in the solution to the challenge, faced by every composer who has dealt with this subject matter, of introducing variety into a formal scheme that doesn't seem to permit it, with a sequence of movements all in the same or similar keys and with the same general mood. Dubois draws on a variety of biblical and extra-biblical texts and tunes; the Stabat Mater chant, for example, finds its way into the third "word." The chorus is given several different roles; it represents the crowd calling for Christ's head, as in Schütz's Passion settings, but it also merges with the soul of Christ at other junctures, following the expression of Christ's word by one or more soloists. This is very elegantly handled. The choir and soloists operate at a good basic level, but the same can't be said of the sound engineers, who produce a hollow, rather unpleasant sound. Still, there's something here that choristers and choir directors should investigate. The music is sung in English.

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