musica Dei donum

CD reviews

[I] "L'Astrée - Musique d'après le roman d'Honoré d'Urfé"
Dir: Marco Horvat

rec: Oct 2007, Bâtie d'Urfé (Loire)
Alpha - 127 (© 2007) (75'48")

[II] "L'Esprit Galant"
Johannette Zomer, soprano; Fred Jacobs, theorbo

rec: Jan 2007, Deventer, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Channel Classics - CCS SA 24307 (© 2007) (63'08")

[I] anon: Passava amor su arco desarmado; Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1635-1691): Prélude; Robert BALLARD (c1570 - after 1650): Branle de village; Courante; Première entrée de luth; Troisième entrée de luth; Antoine BOËSSET (1587-1643): Doux complices de mes ennuis; Puis qu'il est vrai; Que d'objets d'amour; Suis-je pas misérable; Jean BOYER (fl 1600-1648): Je suis Cupidon; Sa beauté extrême; Si j'aime autre que vous; Jehan CHARDAVOINE (1538-c1580): Amour cent fois; Vivrai-je toujours; Nicolas CHEVALIER (?-?): Sarabande; Joachim Thibaut DE COURVILLE (?-1581): Si je languis; François DUFAUT (?-before 1682): Sarabande; Ennemond GAUTIER 'le Vieux' (c1575-1651): Chaconne; Pierre GUEDRON (c1565-1620): Çà, donnons à tous nos sens; René MÉSANGEAU (?-1638): Prélude; Guillaume MICHEL (fl 1636-1656): Urfé nous vante Lignon; Étienne MOULINIÉ 1599-1676): Enfin, Hylas est arrêté; Ondes qui soulevez; Si l'Amour, comme on dit; Louis DE RIGAUD (1st half 17th C): Outré par la douleur; Voudriez-vous être mon berger?; Nicolas DE VAVASSEUR (c1580-c1658): Elle a changé mon coeur; Rompons-les, il est temps
[II] Antoine BOËSSET: Me veux-tu voir mourir; Noires forêts; Que servent tes conseils; Sébastien CAMUS (c1610-1677): Ah! Fuyons ce dangereux séjour; Amour, cruel amour; Forêts solitaires et sombres; Laisser durer la nuit; Qu'une longue tiédeur ennuie; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Ah! Laissez-moi rêver (H 441); Ah! Qu'on est malheureux (H 443); Celle qui fait tout mon tourment (H 450); Ruisseau, qui nourrit dans ce bois (H 466); Sans frayeur dans ce bois (Chaconne) (H 467); Ennemond GAUTIER: L'Immortelle; Nicolas HOTMAN (before 1614-1651): Pièces de théorbe in d minor; Sarabande; Michel LAMBERT (c1610-1696): Il n'est point d'amour sans peine; Ombre de mon amant; Rochers, vous êtes sourds; Vos mépris chaque jour; Vous éprouver toujours sévère; Germain PINEL (c1600-1661): Prélude; Robert DE VISÉE (before 1660-after 1725): Chaconne en rondeau; La Mascarade; Prélude

[I] Olga Pitarch, soprano; Jean-Michel Fumas, hautecontre; Marc Mauillon, tenor; Marco Horvat, baritone, lute, guitar; François Lazarevitch, musette, transverse flute; Pascale Boquet, lute, guitar; Angélique Mauillon, triple harp; Matthieu Boutineau, harpsichord

The two discs reviewed here are complementary in that they both bring music from 17th-century France. The ensemble Faenza performs music from the first half of the century, Johannette Zomer and Fred Jacobs compositions from the second half. In both productions the air de cour has a prominent place.

The title of Faenza's disc comes from a romance which was published in five parts between 1607 and 1628. The first three were written by Honoré d'Urfé, a nobleman and soldier, but also well versed in both music and dancing. Part 4 was published by his secretary in 1627, two years after the death of the author. He also wrote and published part 5, based on notes of Honoré d'Urfé. The romance, set in 5th-century Gaul, is about the lives of shepherds and shepherdesses who are mostly interested in love. It consists of a frame tale within which several shorter stories are told. But the romance wasn't just written for entertainment. It "aspired to present an ideal of civilisation by providing that society with a model of social behaviour and asserting the supremacy of intellectual and artistic pursuits."

This explains the diverse character of the music in this programme. On the one hand we find the air de cour associated with the court and the aristocracy and pieces written for the intimacy of the chamber of the higher echelons of society. On the other hand some items are played on the musette, the instrument associated with the pastoral world of shepherds, shepherdesses and nymphs. Music plays an important role in the romance, in that characters express themselves through it. The ensemble has selected music which can in one way or another be associated with the romance. Some texts from the romance have been set to music by contemporary composers, others used texts by poets who were clearly inspired by Honoré d'Urfé.

"In order to restore the musical dimension of Urfé's work, the Faenza ensemble presents an illustration of the various situations in the romance in which music occurs, thus enabling us to savour the full piquancy of the romance, as well as to enjoy the airs de cour fully through a complete re-reading of the corpus that attempts to recreate the original context in which the pieces were first performed", according to the booklet. They have well succeeded in doing so, and as a result one gets a captivating picture of the musical genres and styles in the early 17th century. The fact that this disc contains a number of pieces by composers who are virtually unknown, is an additional merit of this production. The ensemble Faenza delivers fine performances, with excellent singers and players, showing technical assurance and stylistic understanding in their interpretations. The lyrics are all printed in the booklet with an English translation. There are also some short readings from the romance, but these are not printed nor translated which is a bit of a shame for those who don't understand French.

With the second disc we move into the second half of the 17th century. Johannette Zomer and Fred Jacobs start with Boësset, though, and as he also figures on the first disc, he is the composer who links both discs.

In the second half of the century Michel Lambert became one of the most celebrated singers and singing teachers and a prolific composer of airs. There were several kinds of airs, like the air sérieux - an air of a serious character - , air à boire (drinking song) and air pour danser, an air to dance on. It is mainly the first genre which is performed here, although a couple of dance songs are included, like Celle qui fait tout mon tourment and Sans frayeur dans ce bois by Charpentier.

In a way the programme is put together like a circle. It starts with Boësset, whose songs have some connection with the Italian monody, for instance in the connection between text and music and the use of harmony to express elements in the text. Charpentier, living about half a century later, also was influenced by the Italian style, having studied several years with Giacomo Carissimi in Rome.

In between are songs by Michel Lambert and Sébastien Le Camus. In particular their songs reflect the title of this disc, L'Esprit Galant. As Fred Jacobs writes in his programme notes: "The audiences of the time loved variety and novelty, in the theatre, the dance, and in music as well. The poetry on which the Air sérieux was based bore the general name of galanterie. 'Delicate', 'cheerful', 'sweet', and 'light-footed' were the words associated with galant poets around 1670. The music was similarly referred to: "A sweet and galant song often finds, as it speaks, that fortunate secret: how to please"."

That doesn't mean these songs are without text expression. One of the most famous songs by Lambert is Ombre de mon amant which has been recorded many times. Interesting is that it is written as a kind of récit, a form mostly associated with opera. It is only one of the forms composers like Lambert made use of. Other songs were written for ballets, like Rochers vous êtes sourds, one of the many 'laments of Ariadne' in music history. Also used was the form of the basso ostinato, like in Vos mépris chaque jour by Lambert and Ruisseau qui nourrit dans ce bois by Charpentier.

Elegance and galanterie was also decisive in the performance. One of the main requirements of singers of such airs was a precise and careful delivery of the text. The singing teacher and composer Bénigne de Bacilly (1625? - 1690) paid much attention to this aspect. "In order to be expressive, a singer, according to Bacilly, cannot neglect a single syllable. Bacilly uses the term style galant when he speaks of the relationship between expression and lightness".

On this disc Johannette Zomer gives a perfect demonstration of this kind of singing. Her diction is excellent, and she delivers the text very carefully. Her ornamentation is stylish and never exaggerated - that would certainly be a violation of the style galant. There are fine dynamic shades in her interpretation, for instance in Charpentier's Ah! Laissez-mou rêver and in Boësset's Noire forêts and Qu'une longue tiédeur ennuie. Sometimes I found the tempo a bit too fast, in particular in Lambert's Ombre de mon amant which is perhaps a bit too down-to-earth.

Also very good is the balance between voice and theorbo, an instrument reconstructed from iconographic evidence, which makes sense as the French theorbo was somewhat different from its Italian namesake. Fred Jacobs plays the instrument with great sensitivity, not only in his accompaniment of Johannette Zomer, but also in the solo pieces, some of which are almost completely unknown and are nice additions to the repertoire, in particular those by Nicolas Hotman - mainly known as a composer for the viola da gamba - and Germain Pinel.

Lastly I notice with satisfaction the use of historical pronunciation of the French texts. Listening to this one realises how much it contributes to a convincing interpretation of this repertoire.

In short, this is an outstanding recording of repertoire which deserves to be thoroughly explored. The performances are enthralling, often expressive, sometimes just entertaining. The only minus is the designing of the booklet and the tray. Which moron has come up with the idea to print the tracklist in white and yellow letters on a very busy background of brown and gold? And why don't Channel Classics' booklets contain a white page with black letters with a tracklist one can actually read?

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Johannette Zomer

CD Reviews