musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Héroïnes - Cantates françaises"

Victoire Bunela, Anna Reinholdb, mezzo-soprano; Guilhem Worms, bass-baritonec
Ensemble Il Caravaggio
Dir: Camille Delaforge

rec: Dec 17 - 19, 2021, Château de Versailles (Salle Marengo)
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS090 (© 2023) (58'02")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/(F)
Cover & track-list
Score Dornel
Score Montéclair

anon: Ballet de la Reine (Nos esprits libres et contents)ac; Une fillette de quinze ans, chanson Béarnaisec; Louis Antoine DORNEL (1680-1765): Le tombeau de Clorinde, cantate à une voix et symphoniec; Nicolas Racot DE GRANDVAL (1676-1753): J'ai languy sous vos dures lois [1]; Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729): Céphale et Procris, tragédie lyrique (air pour les Athéniens; Lieux écartés; Les rossignols; bourrée)a; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Les amours déguisés (LWV 21), ballet (Plainte d'Armide)b; Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737): La morte du Lucretia, cantate à une voix et symphoniea [2]; Jean-Baptiste MORIN (1677-1745): Ouverture;

Sources: [1] Christophe Ballard, ed., Airs sérieux et à boire, 1709; [2] Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Cantates à une et à deux voix, troisième livre, 1728

Roxana Rastegar, Pierre Eric Nimylovycz, violin; Ronald Martin Alonso, viola da gamba; Benjamin Narvey, theorbo, guitar; Camille Delaforge, harpsichord

The title of this disc indicates exactly what it is about. The programme focuses on the fate of several heroines who have been the subject of so many operas and cantatas in the baroque era: Clorinda, Armida and Lucretia as well as the probably lesser-known Procris. Most of the compositions in which they appear are from the pen of Italian composers or those non-Italians who had adopted the Italian style. The disc under review brings us to France, but Italy is never far away.

The earliest piece in the programme - except the short songs - is the 'Plainte d'Armide' from the Ballet des amours déguisés of 1664 by Jean-Baptiste Lully. He was of Italian birth and had been engaged by Louis XIV to create a genuine French opera as an alternative to the Italian opera. However, in some of his own works he now and then turned to the style he had grown up with, for instance for particularly dramatic moments, or, as is the case here, a lament, which had become a tradition in Italian opera. The 'Plainte d'Armide' is written on an Italian text and was sung at the first performance by an Italian singer. It is a sequence of short recitatives and arias, with ritornellos for two violins. This piece would not been out of place in any Italian opera of the time.

Thirty years later Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre composed her opera Céphale et Procris, which was the first opera in France ever to be composed by a female composer. Jacquet de La Guerre was influenced by the Italian style in her chamber music, but this work is in the French tradition and shows the influence of Lully. 'Lieux écartés' is a monologue of Procris, and it is not without emotion, but even so clearly different from the monologue of Armida in Lully's ballet. It is preceded by the 'Air pour les Athéniens' - not, as one may expect, an aria to be sung, but rather an instrumental dance.

Louis-Antoine Dornel is one of the lesser-known composers from the early 18th century. His extant oeuvre is not that large, and only two cantatas from his pen have come down to us. Le tombeau de Clorinde, dating from 1723, has a text in French, but is very much Italian in character. Dornel was one of those composers who had embraced the Italian style, as his chamber music attests. The scoring is for a low voice (the English liner-notes have "bass-voice", but that is a wrong translation of basse-taille, which means baritone), obbligato violin and basso continuo. It consists of three short recitatives, each followed by an aria. The recitatives are put into the mouth of the narrator; the first is especially dramatic. The arias are allocated to Argant, Clorinda's lover in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. The most dramatic aria is the second, 'Hâtons-nous': "Let us hurry to avenge ourselves with my weapons". The urgency is emphasized by the omission of an instrumental introduction.

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair was a productive composer of cantatas: three books were printed, and both the first and the third include cantatas on Italian texts. La morte di Lucretia is from the third book of 1728. Lucrezia, having been raped, decides to kill herself in order to save her honour. The cantata consists of three pairs of recitative and aria; the first recitative is introduced by the ensemble. The most emotionally intense is the first aria, where Lucretia complains about her fate. The second is a dacapo aria, with two contrasting sections. In the third - which is in fact an accompanied recitative - she describes the process of dying. Then a narrator takes over for a recitative: "This is how Lucretia died", and also concludes in the last section: "She triumphed, although dead, on the Campidoglio". This is a purely Italian piece, and it would not be out of place in a recording of cantatas by genuine Italian composers.

In between we get some songs; these are included as specimens of what was still enjoyed by the general public. They are reminiscences of a long tradition of airs, which goes back to the late 16th century and reached the height of its popularity in the second half of the 17th century. The liner-notes don't comment on them.

The main task of bringing this programme to life is that of the singers. All of them use a bit more vibrato than one would wish, but it is a relatively minor issue. I had problems with the voice of Guilhem Worms, which I don't find very nice to hear, but with time I got more or less used to it. The dramatic features in Dornel's cantata come off rather well, but the diction leaves something to be desired; I would prefer a more 'open' voice. Also a lighter, more baritone-like voice, would have been preferable. Une fillette de quinze ans sounds a bit dour; a more agile voice would be more appropriate. Victoire Bunel has a very nice voice, and she has the agility that is needed in Montéclair's cantata. She also has the dramatic talent to explore the strong feelings of Lucrezia. Anna Reinhold is of the same standard in Lully's 'Plainte'; the contrasts are worked out well, especially in the recitatives. The performance by her and the ensemble are rather operatic, and rightly so.

The concept of this programme is interesting and has been worked out well. The two cantatas are musically rewarding, and a demonstration of the growing influence of the Italian style in France after 1700. Overall the level of the performances is rather good, and this disc may appeal to lovers of French and Italian music alike.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Victoire Bunel
Anna Reinhold
Guilhem Worms
Il Caravaggio

CD Reviews