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"Cantates & concertos comiques"

Dominique Visse, altoa
Café Zimmermann
rec: Dec 2008, Guebwiller, Dominicains de Haute Alsace
Alpha - 151 (© 2009) (66'10")

Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795): Concerto comique V 'La Femme est un grand embarras [3]; Concerto comique XXIV 'La Marche du Huron'; Philippe COURBOIS (1705-1730): Dom Quichotte, cantataa [1]; Pierre DE LA GARDE (1717-c1792): La Sonate, cantataa; Nicolas Racot DE GRANDVAL (1676-1753): La Matrone d'Ephèse, cantataa [4]; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): La Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève du Mont de Paris [2]

(Sources: [1] Philippe Courbois, Cantates françoises à I. et II. voix, sans simphonie et avec simphonie, 1710; [2] Marin Marais, La gamme et autres morceaux de symphonie, 1723; [3] Michel Corrette, Concertos comiques, op. 8, 1733; [4] Nicolas Racot de Grandval, 6 cantates sérieuses et comiques, 1755)

Diana Baroni, transverse flute; Pablo Valetti, David Plantier, violin; Petr Skalka, cello; Guido Balestracci, viola da gamba; Eric Bellocq, lute, guitar; Céline Frisch, harpsichord, organ

This disc shows an aspect of French music of the Ancien régime which is little known. In Italy many operas of the 17th century contained comic story lines which were rooted in the commedia dell'arte. In the early decades of the 18th century the comic elements were removed from the opera and the opera seria came into existence. Comical stories were now the subject of the intermezzi which were performed during the intervals of opere serie. Towards the end of what we call the 'baroque' the comic opera became an independent genre, and especially in Naples this genre flowered. In France comic elements were largely absent in operas. Not before the second half of the 18th century the first opéras comiques were performed.

The opéra comique did not appear out of the blue, and this disc sheds some light on comic cantatas from the first half of the 18th century. It contains three cantatas of a quite different character in which the comical aspect has various traces. The cantata referred to in the title of this disc is by Philippe Courbois. For some time he was maître de musique in the household of the Duchess of Maine at the end of the reign of Louis XIV and the first years of the Regency. The Duchess' home in Sceaux was an important musical centre at that time, with which also composers like Bernier, Mouret and Collin de Blamont were associated. Courbois' main collection of music contains cantatas for one and two voices, from which also Dom Quichotte is taken. The subject is well-known and has inspired many composers. In his cantata Courbois makes a fool of Don Quichotte through the discrepancy between music and text. This cantata contains several references to the operas of the 17th century, especially of Lully.

That is also the case in the other two cantatas.
La Matrône d'Ephèse was composed by Nicolas Racot de Grandval who came from a family of actors. He joined a travelling theatrical troupe for which he wrote divertissements and incidental music. As a musician he was active as keyboard player in which capacity he participated in performances of ballets at the court. For his stage works, mostly of a satirical character, he used the term tragédie pour rire. He wrote parodies of serious cantatas, for instance by Clérambault. The cantata on this disc is about a widow who mourns at the grave of her deceased husband, and then falls for the soldier who - on orders of her late husband's relatives - has to guard his grave. The cantata is written for one singer who has to sing all the different characters: the narrator, the widow, her maid, her late husband - speaking from the grave - and the soldier. In particular the latter is a hilarious character who tries to underline his many qualities, including the ability to sing opera arias and dance. There is no strict division between recitatives and arias, and Grandvalle quotes many Noëls and vaudevilles. In particular some of the former will sound familiar to many of today's listeners.

The latest cantata is the first performed on this disc: La Sonate by Pierre de La Garde. He was active as a baritone and as ordinaire de la chambre du roi he was responsible for the musical education of the children of Louis XV. In 1756 he was appointed compositeur de la chambre du roi. Before he had been assistant conductor at the Opéra. The cantata La Sonate is about a composer who rehearses a sonata of his own with an ensemble. He begins with asking them to find the right pitch: "Higher, higher, higher" - singing himself at a higher pitch every time, and then sings: "My word, we're there!". The comic element is especially the depiction of the composer's vanity: "Upon my word, this lament is touching, though I wrote it myself, it enchants even me."
The composer also asks the players to imagine characters and scenes from mythology. And this is an important aspect of French music which is also reflected in La Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève by Marin Marais in which the sound of the bells of the abbey church of St Geneviève are imitated.

In addition to the cantatas this disc contains two of the 25 Concertos comiques which Michel Corrette composed between 1732 and 1760. They heavily lean on popular tunes but also on fragments from then famous operas, for instance by Grétry. They are all written for three treble instruments and bc, and show strong Italian influence. The name concerto comique doesn't imply they are comical, but refer to the fact that they were performed between the acts of comedies. Nevertheless it makes sense that they are included here in that they make use of pre-existent material, which is also one of the features of the cantatas on this disc.

For the vocal items one could hardly have chosen a better performer than Dominique Visse who shows his versatility in La Matrône d'Ephèse in which he sings all roles with different voices, including a deep chest voice. Sometimes he switches quickly between the one and the other in a dialogue. La Sonate is described in the booklet as a little play, and Dominique Visse shows here that he is also an excellent actor. That he is also able to sing music of a more 'serious' nature is proven by Dom Quichotte whose music is quite close to the serious chamber cantata of the time. Café Zimmermann measure up to his standard. Not only do they play with great technical assurance and with much flair, they also 'act' in their own way when it is needed. The instrumental pieces are all brilliantly played.

As a result this disc is a most entertaining affair which nobody who is interested in Frenvch baroque music should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Dominique Visse
Café Zimmermann

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