Le Concert Spirituel/Niquet – review

Wigmore Hall, London

French Baroque, for most people, means Versailles and the complexities, aesthetic and political, of music composed for the Bourbon monarchy. There was far more to it, of course, than entertainment for the court, and Hervé Niquet's Wigmore concert with his Concert Spirituel took us into France's cathedrals and churches for a revelatory programme of devotional music that embraced a unique and quite wonderful soundworld.

Sébastien de Brossard's Stabat Mater was prefaced by Pierre Bouteiller's Requiem, its movements interwoven as an unbroken sequence with instrumental works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Henri Frémart. This is music for male voices only, accompanied by an ensemble of low strings – five cellos and a double bass – resulting in complex polyphony, austere yet sensuous, over a narrow compass or range. Both choral works are challenging masterpieces. Bouteiller's Requiem is paradoxically clamorous and desperate in its petition for "eternal rest". De Brossard's all-male response to the Virgin Mary's suffering permits and explores masculine emotion and vulnerability as its expression of grief, at times alarming in its dissonance, gradually gathers momentum.

Le Concert Spirituel are peerless in this repertory. Niquet, notably flamboyant when the occasion demands it, conducted in this instance with sparse but graceful gestures. The Wigmore acoustic has been known to cramp large-ish ensembles. Here, however, the lines and textures, shuttling between individual musicians and shifting combinations of players and singers, emerged with perfect clarity and balance. A slightly abrasive quality to the sound – some of it the product of the French pronunciation, more nasal than ours, of ecclesiastical Latin – precluded any veering towards religiosity, and the overall impression was of something hypnotic and beautiful that created a genuine sense of the transcendent.

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Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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