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Christophe LE MENU de Saint-Philbert (c1720 - 1774): "6 Cantatilles"

Mónika González, soprano; Zoltán Megyesi, tenor; Róbert Mandel, hurdy-gurdy; Pál Németh, transverse flute; Piroska Vitárius, violin; Ottó Nagy, cello, viola da gamba; Gábor Tokodi, lute; Ágnes Varallyay, harpsichord

rec: May 7 - 8 & 18 - 19, 2008, Hungaroton Studio
Hungaroton - HCD 32564 (© 2009) (52'26")

Ariane; Hypomčne et Atalante; L'Étincelle; L'Hymčn; L'Impatience; La Vičle

(Source: Premier livre de cantatilles. 6 Cantatilles en simphonie)

Around 1700 the chamber cantata developed in France into one of the most popular musical genres. At least about 800 cantatas were written, and almost 150 were printed. Not only was this the effect of the growing taste for the Italian style which in the chamber cantata was succesfully mixed with French elements, it also reflects the growing importance of music making in private salons of the higher echelons of society. But the popularity of the chamber cantata was short-lived. It was well after the turn of the century that the cantata was becoming an important musical genre. It lost most of its ground already in the 1730s, though. One of the reasons was a renewed attraction of opera.

This disc contains so-called cantatilles, a diminutive of cantate, which were considerably shorter than the cantatas written by masters of the genre, like Jean-Baptiste Morin, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault or Jean-Baptiste Stuck. This kind of cantatas is a representative of the rococo style and is considerably less dramatic and of a more graceful and melodic character.

The composer of the cantatilles on this disc is a largely unknown quantity. He has his own entry in New Grove, but only his credentials as music publisher are mentioned. In this capacity he printed music by, for instance, Cambini, Cramer, Mozart and Vanhal. But his activities as composer are not mentioned at all. He himself printed the cantatilles recorded here in the early 1740s; they were later issued separately several times, which indicates that they were quite popular. Three of them consist of a sequence of aria - recitative - aria, in the other three the first aria is preceded by another recitative. All are scored for solo voice with one to three obbligato instruments and bc. The choice of the obbligato instruments - transverse flute, violin, hurdy-gurdy - is left to the performers.

On this disc the hurdy-gurdy is only used in the second piece, called La Vičle, which is an obvious choice. In this piece the hurdy-gurdy even appears in the middle recitative which reflects the text: "What do I see? It is not Apollo nor his lyre. (...) It is a new Orpheus inspired by love. Under her fingers the charming Viele makes sounds always beautiful, how her harmony is moving!" In the closing aria the 'vičle' is the symbol of the joy of love: "Lovable Viele, reign forever, charm mortals and the Gods. With your melodious tones we see Joy triumph".

As tradition has it, all cantatas are about love. Mythological stories are used to make a point about love, like in Ariane, in which the last aria contains the moral of the famous story of Ariadne: "Beauties, when a fickle lover deceives your amorous desires fly to new pleasures. Inconsistency is your fate". The preceding recitatives and aria deal with the story itself, and these are quite dramatic, with tremolos in the violin part of the first aria: "God of the seas, come, come, serve my rage". Not without drama is also L'étincelle which deals with the unhappy love of Philene. Again the middle recitative contains obbligato instrumental parts, here played on transverse flute and violin which play unisono alongside the voice and also introduce the recitative.

This disc sheds light on an aspect of French music history which is hardly explored. These cantatas may not be comparable with the best of what was composed during the heyday of the French chamber cantata, they should be taken quite seriously. The cantatilles by Christophe Le Menu de Saint-Philbert are of very good quality and entertaining to listen to. Part of the impression they make is due to the interpretation. Mónika González and Zoltán Megyesi have fine voices which are very well suited to this repertoire, and the instrumentalists give excellent performances of the obbligato parts. The melodious and graceful as well as the dramatic aspects have their pound of flesh.

The booklet contains programme notes and the lyrics, with an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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