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André CAMPRA (1660 - 1744): "Jesu amantissime - Petits motets pour voix d'hommes"

Jean-François Lombard, haute-contrea; Jean-François Novelli, tenorb; Marc Labonnette, bassc
Les Folies Françoises
Dir: Patrick Cohën-Akenine

rec: June 27 - 30, 2010, Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, Abbaye
Cypres - CYP1665 (© 2012) (64'38")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list
Scores Campra

André CAMPRA: Beati omnes, motet à voix seule et un dessus de violonb; Immensus est Domine, motet à 3 voix et deux dessus de violinabc; O Jesu amantissime, motet à deux voix et deux dessus de violonac; Quam dilecta, motet à 3 voix et basse continueabc; Salvum me fac Deus, motet à 3 voix et deux dessus de violonabc; Jean-François DANDRIEU (1682-1738): Magnificat in d minor (plein jeu; flûtes; trio)d [5]; Magnificat in G (flûtes)d [5]; Magnificat in a minor (récit de trompette séparée ou de cromorne)d [5]; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in d minor [op. 1,1]

André Campra, [1] Motets, livre premier, 1695; [2] Motets, livre second, 1699; [3] Jean-François Dandrieu, Livre de sonates en trio, [op. 1], 1705; [4] André Campra, Motets, livre quatrième, 1706; [5] Jean-François Dandrieu, 1er livre de pièces d'Orgue, 1739

Patrick Cohën-Akenine, Cécile Garcia-Moeller, violin; François Poly, viola da gamba; François Saint-Yves, organ (solo d)

Whereas in Germany the cantata was the main form of sacred music, in France it was the grand motet which in its scoring for solo voices, choir and orchestra has some similarities with the German cantata. The often lavish scoring for an orchestra of wind and strings also reflected the splendour of the court at Versailles for which many of such motets were written. This disc sheds light on another genre, then petit motet which was not only performed at the court, but also in churches and convents. Grands motets were usually settings of Psalms; these small pieces made use of a wider variety of texts, extracts from Psalms, but also liturgical texts such as antiphons and responsories or texts by classical authors like St Augustine.

One of the most productive composers of petits motets was André Campra, one of the most famous composers in France in the first half of the 18th century. He began ecclesiastical studies in 1678. In the 1680s he acted as maître de chapelle in Arles and maître de musique in Toulouse. In 1694 he was given four month's leave in Paris, but did not return to Toulouse. That year he was appointed maître de musique at Notre Dame cathedral.

From an early age Campra was highly interested in the Italian style. He didn't hide his sympathies when he introduced violins to support the choir of Notre-Dame. In his compositions he showed his skill "in blending Italian music so agreeably with that of France. A great many people come every Saturday at half past three to hear the motet sung before the Chapel of the Virgin", according to a contemporary source. The word motet undoubtedly refers to the genre of the petit motet. Because of their modest scoring - one, two or three solo voices and basso continuo, sometimes with a symphonie of one or two treble instruments - they were usually not performed in large churches such as the Notre Dame, but rather in chapels. Canpra's motets were so popular that they were even performed in the salons. That made them the sacred counterparts of the chamber cantata.

There were in fact quite some similarities between the two genres. The scoring was comparable, and so was its form. Campra composed around 60 petits motets and over the years they became more and more Italian in character. The motets selected for this disc are from three of the five books with motets which were printed between 1695 and 1720 and were reprinted many times until 1735. The latter three books were published when Campra had already left his post in Notre Dame in order to concentrate on opera. That must have had its influence on his style of composing motets as well.

Quam dilecta, on verses from Psalm 83 (84), is from the first book, printed in 1695, and is predominantly French in style. It opens and closes with a trio, and in between the three solo voices sing a recitative. O Jesu amantissime and Immensus est Domine are from the second book which was published in 1699. The former motet is a setting of a text by the late-17th century poet Pierre Portes: "O most loving Jesus, who are the shining light of minds". It is through-composed; the three soloists have solo passages and also sing in ensemble. The declamation is typically French, which we also meet in 17th-century opera, and this work is dominated by counterpoint. That is also the case with Immensus est Domine which is on a text by St Augustine: "You are eternal, Lord, and you should be loved eternally". It has the structure of an Italian trio sonata in four movements: slow - fast - slow - fast. The two fast movements are fugues.

The other two motets are from the fourth book of 1706. Beati omnes is a setting of the first seven verses from Psalm 128 (129): "Blessed are all they that fear the Lord". It has a modest scoring of tenor, violin and bc. It begins and ends with dacapo arias which are separated by a short French rondeau. Verses from Psalm 68 (69), "Save me, O God, for the waters have come in even unto my soul", are the text of Salvum me fac Deus. It is the most dramatic cantata of this disc; the third section, scored for bass, is especially expressive: "I have come into the depth of the sea, and a tempest has overwhelmed me". The difference with Italian opera is negligent.

It is a shame that this disc includes some motets which have been recorded before. It had been preferable if some pieces had been chosen which are still waiting to be performed. However, the level of interpretation makes up for that. The three singers deliver immaculate and impressive performances. Their treatment of the text is outstanding, revealing the level of expression to the full. In the trios the three voices blend perfectly. The ritornellos are given fine accounts by the instrumental ensemble. Considering the growing influence of the Italian style in Campra's petits motets and the trio sonata structure of one of them it was a good idea to add an early example of a trio sonata by a French composer, the Sonata in d minor from 1705 by Jean-François Dandrieu. He was mainly known as a keyboard player and in particular organist. In between the motets François Saint-Yves plays extracts from his only book of organ pieces, in which we find several sets of versets on the Magnificat. Contributing to the attraction of this disc is the fact that the large organ which Saint-Yves plays in Dandrieu, is also used in the basso continuo of the motets and the trio sonata.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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