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"Vous avez dit Brunettes?"

Les Kapsber'girls

rec: Sept 2020, Evje (NO), Mossestudio
Alpha - 761 (© 2021) (63'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Colin disoit à sa bergère [4]; Contredanse; J'avois crû qu'en vous [aymant] [2]; Je ne veux plus aimer rien [2]; Je vous dis que je vous aime [3]; Le beau berger Tircis [2]; Nicolas va voir Jeanne [2]; Non non je n'iray [3]; Où estes vous allé, mes belles [amourettes] [3]; Sur cette charmante rive [4]; Vous qui sçavez si bien [plaire] [3]; René Drouard DU BOUSSET (1703-1760): Dans ce beau vallon [10]; Jean-Baptiste DUPUITS (1720?-1769?): La Dupuits, sarabande [12]; Nicolas HOTMAN (c1610-1663): Chaconne; Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729): Les rossignols, dès que le jour commence; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696): Rochers, vous êtes sourds [1]; Jean-Marie LE CLERC (1697-1764): Amis, laissons l'amour, saisissons la bouteille [5]; Nicolas LENDORMY (c1760): La Desmé, rondeau [13]; Jacques NAUDÉ (?-1765): Aimables rossignols [9]; En vérité sévère Margoton [9]; Julie PINEL (1710-1737): Boccages frais [11]; Pourquoy le berger qui m'engage [11]; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Avec du vin [4]; Giuseppe SAGGIONE (fl 1688-1733): Quand je veux boire avec ma maitresse [8]; Si je fais l'amour [7]; Robert DE VISÉE (c1650/55-c1732) (attr): La Villanelle

Sources: [1] Robert Ballard, ed., IX. Livre d'Airs de differents autheurs, à deux parties, 1666; Christophe Ballard, ed., [2] Brunetes ou petits airs tendres, 1703; [3] Brunetes ou petits airs tendres, 1704; [4] Brunetes ou petits airs tendres, 1711; [5] Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1719; [6] Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1721; Giuseppe Saggione, [7] Recueil d'airs françois dans le goût italien sérieux et à boire à une, II & III voix, 1728; [8] , IId recueil d'airs français dans le goût italien, 1728; [9] Christophe Ballard, ed., Airs sérieux et à boire, 1731; [10] Du Plessis, ed., 1er Recueil d'airs nouveaux sérieux et à boire, 1731; [11] Julie Pinel, Nouveau recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1737; [12] Jean-Baptiste Dupuits, Pièces de caractères pour la vielle, op. 5, 1742; [13] Nicolas Lendormy, Second livre de pièces pour le pardessus de viole, c1780

Alice Duport-Percier, soprano; Axelle Verner, mezzo-soprano; Garance Boizot, viola da gamba; Albane Imbs, archlute, tiorbino, theorbo, guitar

In recordings of French baroque music one may encounter pieces called brunettes, either as songs or as instrumental pieces. The latter are arrangements of the original vocal versions, which are part of a genre that was very popular at the time. The word brunette has its origin in the refrain of a song by an unknown composer, which Christophe Ballard included in a collection of songs he printed in 1703.

The brunette was a special kind of song that was part of a larger genre of airs sérieux, which in the second half of the 17th century replaced the air de cour. The latter had its origins in the late 16th century, when such songs were polyphonic. In the first half of the 17th century, a number of these songs were arranged for solo voice and lute. As the name suggests, they were sung at the court (and with time also among the highest echelons of society). Due to its increasing popularity, the form of the solo song disseminated among lower ranks and turned to songs which were divided into several categories, such as airs sérieux and airs à boire (drinking songs).

"The Brunettes carry us off into a rural, bucolic world in which Shepherdesses, sometimes mythological, sometimes earthlings, are frolicking about with gay abandon. Their long-lasting success speaks to the taste of the upper classes for this mythical, pastoral world of which L'Astrée (published from 1607 to 1627), a pastoral saga by Honoré Durfé that exercised incontrovertible influence on both literature and the consequent music, was certainly the precursor", Albane Imbs states in the liner-notes. This is very similar to the nature of the Italian chamber cantata, whose texts reflect the same Arcadian atmosphere, that was the ideal of the upper classes in Italy.

However, not all brunettes were about Arcadian characters. There are also songs about earthly shepherds, "throughly real, flesh-and-blood villagers". Albane Imbs points out that they express the dichotomy which was a feature of the time. "On the one hand, the aristocracy could modestly and without danger embody an idealised character, another self, without identifying with it". Here we see another parallel with Italy, where the members of the academies adopted a fancy name. On the other hand, the down-to-earth characters offered an opportunity to break away with the strict social codes, which don't allow for the expression of human emotions. People may feel the need to "dress up as a humble Shepherd, a simple villager, to whom the freedom is granted - and secretly envied - to give himself over wholeheartedly to his affections".

Both kinds of songs are included here. Les Kapsber'girls seem to want to emphasize the down-to-earth character of some songs by a kind of folksy singing, which I don't find very convincing. It seems unlikely this kind of songs were sung by 'common' people. I had rather preferred them to adopt a historical pronunciation; hearing these songs in modern French is rather odd. That is not the only issue: there is some soundscape, such as the bleating of sheep. I don't like that and I can't see what it adds to the musical programme.

Setting these considerations apart, this is definitely an interesting disc, as it focuses on an important musical genre that is seldom performed, except as snippets in anthologies. It deserves the attention it receives here. As the track-list shows, among the composers are several that are hardly known; unfortunately the booklet does not include any biographical information. René Drouart de Bousset was an organist and succeeded his father as maître de musique at the Académies des Sciences et des Inscriptions. He became heavily involved with a religious sect, the convulsionnaires, which inspired him to compose a number of religious cantatas. Giuseppe Saggione's original surname was Fedeli; he was from a Venetian musical dynasty, and worked as a trombonist at St Mark's. His only opera was performed in London in 1706, and around 1715 he settled in Paris. Julie Pinel was born into a family of court musicians, and worked as a harpsichord teacher. Her only compositions are songs, published in 1737. I could not find anything about Jacques Naudé. The name Jean-Marie Le Clerc raises the question whether he is identical with Jean-Marie Leclair; the years of birth and death given in the track-list suggest so, but the liner-notes don't mention him. The disc closes with the most famous of them all: Jean-Philippe Rameau, who used the text of one line - "With wine let us go to sleep" - for a canon. It is preceded by a piece from the 17th century: Michel Lambert was one of the main composers of airs de cour, and his song Rochers, vous êtes sourds, taken from a collection of 1666, attests to the quality of the 17th century air de cour, which is vastly superior to the early 18th-century brunette. It is the highlight of this disc, and receives an excellent performance.

Overall, the singing and playing is very good. It is just that I find a few aspects of this production not entirely convincing and satisfying.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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