Hervé Niquet / Le Concert Spirituel Orchestra

Louis le Prince: Missa Macula non est in te

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So thoroughly centralized in Paris was French musical life in the age of the Sun King that composers from other parts of France were largely forgotten. Louis Le Prince, who worked in the Norman town of Lisieux, is a case in point. Despite the obvious talent shown in the mass recorded here, it is his only surviving work, and little has been passed down about his life and music. The Missa Macula non est in te (There Is No Stain on Thee Mass) is not a mass in the Renaissance style with preexisting material; the "macula non est in te" title refers to its suitability for Marian liturgies. It's a fully chordal Baroque work, without written-out instrumental parts but realized here by historical-reconstruction specialist Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel with string parts doubling the voices. This is reasonable. Less desirable is the rearrangement for all female voices; while many works, including Vivaldi's famous Gloria, were sung this way, in the case of a virtually unknown work it might be good to hear it as it was written, for six parts from soprano down to bass. This aside, the group has a feel for how to avoid a mechanical feel in large French choral works of this kind, and the mass itself is delightful. Le Prince uses little points of imitation to vary and enliven the texture, and the whole piece is unusually lively. The movements of the mass are divided up as they would be in liturgical performance, with motets by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and one by Lully inserted in between (and before and after the mass). These grand pieces make an effective contrast with the mass, and you can imagine them being imported from Paris for a special occasion of the kind for which the mass was doubtless written. The sound environment of Paris' Notre Dame de Liban is ideal here. Le Prince isn't a lost master, but French Baroque enthusiasts will find that this recording fills a big hole on their shelves.

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