Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller

 

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The Prodigal Son was probably written for the Jesuit church of St Louis in Paris about 1680. The story could not be simpler or better known. The anonymous author of the text follows Luke 15 closely, and Charpentier makes the most of the younger brother's despair after wasting all his substance [listen - track 2, 2:57-3:55]. In this oratorio three different singers are deployed as narrator, but the most moving moment is the father's tender greeting at the return of the errant son [listen - track 2, 11:29-12:59]. Part I ends with a paean of choral delight and instrumental virtuosity that the lost sheep has returned. The second part deals with the complaints of the elder brother, complaints that overstay their welcome after the festivities that have gone before. The faithful manage appropriate sentiments to conclude the work, but the elder brother's fraternal rapture hardly rings true. Only Latin and French texts appear for the three works. It is a relief that the Latin sung in the oratorios diverges considerably from what is printed. There are howlers enough to have excited mirth some time ago from even a first-year student.

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Copyright © 3 September 2000 Robert Anderson, London, UK

 

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