Arsys Bourgogne / Pierre Cao

Telemann, Haendel: Dixit Dominus

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This disc could be just the ticket for those exasperated by increasingly common one-voice-per-part approaches in Baroque choral music. The French Baroque choir Arsys Bourgogne under Vietnamese-Luxemburgish conductor Pierre Cao has some 28 members, backed up by 22 instrumentalists from the historical-performance ensemble Harmonie Universelle, and the group's sound is full and rich. Yet to Telemann, who reported hearing his psalm setting Deus judicium tuum performed in Paris by an ensemble of 100, it might well have seemed small. The psalm, which is not a commonly performed work, is combined here with one of the all-time favorites of the Baroque choral literature, Handel's youthful and energetic Dixit Dominus, which happens to be another psalm setting. The results are very satisfying indeed, for the choir successfully applies its considerable talents in different directions. The Telemann psalm dates to the mid-1730s and was performed at the Concerts spirituals in Paris, where the composer had gone in order to try to clamp down on pirated editions of his works. He nodded to the French grand motet style with a few large choruses, intermixing them with Bachian solos and simple polyphony. Cao forges a sober, luxurious style for this attractive little work, which isn't a lost masterpiece but is nevertheless, like so much else in Telemann's vast output, not precisely like anything else of the period. It makes a nice curtain-raiser for the Handel, where the choir is allowed to give the highly illustrative text stronger rhythmic accents. The group delivers a superb performance of this well-worn work, and it can be strongly recommended to anyone looking for a first recording of Handel beyond Messiah. The choruses seem to consist of planes of clashing accents that build up great waves of energy, making a brilliant contrast with the highly Italianate arias. These showcase a quartet of fine soloists; perhaps the one to watch, in view of her youth, is the creamy-voiced soprano Yeree Suh. The two psalms were recorded in different locations and at different times; the sonics don't quite fit perfectly together, but the choral clarity in the Handel is impressive.

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