musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Airs de differens autheurs donnés à une dame"

Ensemble Les Meslanges
Dir: Thomas Van Essen

rec: Dec 5 - 8, 2008, Rouen, Salle Sainte Croix des Pelletiers
Hortus - 062 (© 2009) (58'30")

Bertrand DE BACILLY (c1625-1690): Apprenez à mon coeur [5]; Charles (?) LE CAMUS (?-?): Dans les plus doux transports d'une flâme nouvelle [6]; De ces lieux si charmants [7]; De mes soupirs, de ma langueur [6]; Iris me paroissoit se tendre et si fidelle [6]; Je veux me plaindre de vos rigueurs [7]; Quand on ayme bien tendrement [6]; Sébastien LE CAMUS (c1610-c1677): Enfin, vous revenez dans la saison nouvelle [4]; Que j'ayme encore ce beau séjour [3]; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Percé jusques au fond du coeur (H 457); Père, maîtresse, honneur, amour (H 458); Que je sens de rades combats! (H 459); Profitez du printemps! (H 495c) [2]; Ruisseau qui nourris dans ce bois (H 466); Tristes déserts, sombre retraite (H 469); Ennemond GAUTIER (1575-1651) or Denis GAUTIER (1597-1672): Tombeau de Lanclos; Nicolas HOTMAN (before 1614-1663): Sarabande; Constantijn HUYGENS (1596-1687): Graves tesmoins [1]; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Cadmus et Hermione (LWV 49): Récit du Soleil [prologue]; Robert DE VISÉE (c1655-1732/33): Allemande La Royalle; Prélude
[spoken text] Marc-Antoine GIRARD (1594-1661): La Jouyssance; Mme DE SÉVIGNÉ: extract from letters to Mme de Grignan (15 Jan 1690) and to Comte de Bussy-Rabutin (5 Feb 1690)

(Sources: [1] Constantijn Huygens, Pathodia sacra et profana occupati, 1647; various, [2] Livre d'airs de différens autheurs, 1674; [3] Livre d'airs de différens autheurs, 1676; [4] Livre d'airs de différens autheurs, 1677; [5] Betrand De Bacilly, Les airs spirituels ..., 1688; various, [6] Recueil d'Airs sérieux et à boire, 1695; [7] Recueil d'Airs sérieux et à boire, 1703; [8] Meslanges de musique latine, françoise et italienne, 1728)

Thomas Van Essen, baritone; Emmanuelle Guigues, viola da gamba; Manuel de Grange, lute, theorbo

In the 1770s a German nobleman wrote an article under the title: "How to preserve an unoccupied company from boredom?" This was a major issue for all royalty and aristocracy through the centuries. One of the answers was: listen to music. And this explains the large amount of music which was composed at or for courts of kings, counts and dukes all over Europe.

The French court of Louis XIII and Louis XIV was a centre of music-making. A wide variety was performed at and around the court, from opera and church music to intimate chamber music and songs. The latter category is the subject of this disc. The central figures are father and son Le Camus, whose careers were intertwined with courtly life.

Although Sébastien Le Camus was quite famous not that much is known about his life. Around 1640 he entered the service of King Louis XIII, and from 1660 onwards he was in charge of the Queen's music - together with Jean-Baptiste de Boesset. When Louis Couperin died in 1661 he was appointed musicien ordinaire of Louis XIV as a player of the theorbo and the viol. When he died he was succeeded by his son Charles, who resigned in 1680. Little is known about his activities after that date. It is known that Charles composed airs but it isn't always possible to be sure whether songs were composed by the father or by the son. This explains the question mark after the Christian name of Charles Le Camus in the tracklist. The fact that the songs attributed to him were published after Sébastien's death is in itself no evidence of Charles being the composer.

In 17th-century France there were two kinds of songs, the air à boire (drinking song) and the air sérieux (serious song). The latter is the kind of song which is performed here. Several names were used for it, like air de cour - specifically referring to the court where these songs were frequently performed -, air tendre or brunette, to mention just a few. These songs were not only performed at court, but also in the salons of the bourgeoisie. This explains the publication of collections of songs.

Although the subject of most songs is love, there is a wide variety in their character. Clémence Monnier, in his liner-notes, points out how the emotions are expressed in the text, through rhetorical devices - words like "ah!" and "quoy!" - but also by using a descending and sometimes chromatic bass line. These songs show a great deal of subtlety, and that comes especially to the fore if they are performed with the means contemporary sources indicate. One of them is the treatise L'art de bien chanter (The art of good singing) from 1668 by Bertrand de Bacilly. This is especially helpful in regard to ornamentation. De Bacilly's own air 'Apprenez à mon coeur' ends this disc.

A special feature of this recording is the use of contemporary pronunciation, which is not frequently applied. This disc shows how much it contributes to a convincing interpretation and a subtle expression of the text. Thomas Van Essen is a specialist in French music, and he has all the capabilities to communicate the intricacies of the poetry and the music. He has a beautiful and agile voice, with a pleasant tone. As we mostly hear a high voice - from tenor to soprano - in this kind of repertoire, it is nice to hear a lower voice for a change.

In addition to the vocal items by Sébastien and Charles Le Camus we hear some pieces by their contemporaries. One of the most important was Robert de Visée, not only a renowned player of the lute and composer of music for his instrument, but also the private guitar teacher of Louis XIV. The 'Tombeau de Lanclos' was written by either Ennemond or Denis Gaultier, two of the main lute composers in France in the mid-17th century.

Not very well-known is Nicolas Hotman: he was of Flemish birth, but moved to Paris around 1626. He was one of the viol players at the court, alongside Sébastien Le Camus. He sent some of his music to Constantijn Huygens, a key figure in Dutch public life, who also was active as a composer. In his only printed collection he included some French songs which were modelled after the air de cour. Graves tesmoins is one of them.

And Marc-Antoine Charpentier couldn't fail to show up in this programme. He was one of the most brilliant composers of his time, although quite suspect to the staunch defenders of the pure French style because of his Italian leanings. His songs on this disc belong to the very best of the time.

This disc offers a very captivating picture of a time in which some great music was written much of which is still unknown. It is hard to imagine better performances than we get here. Those who look for the spectacular should go somewhere else. This is music for the salon and requires attentive listening.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Les Meslanges

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