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"Le passage de la mer rouge" (The Passing of the Red Sea)

Luanda Siqueira, sopranoa
Le Tendre Amour (Barcelone)

rec: July 9 - 12, 2009, Vaspervillier (Moselle), Église Sainte Thérèse
K617 - K617218 (© 2009) (51'58")

René Drouard DE BOUSSET (1703-1760): Juditha [3]; Sébastien DE BROSSARD (1655-1730): La cheutte de Salomona [1]; Ritournelle; Sonate en trio in g minor; Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729): Le passage de la mer rougea [2]; Sonate en trio III [1695]

(Sources: [1] De Brossard, 6 cantates françaises sur des sujets tirés de l’Ecriture Sainte, [ms]; [2] Jacquet de la Guerre, Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l'Écriture, 1er livre, 1708; [3] de Bousset, Cantates Spirituelles, 1er livre, 1735)

Sébastien Perrin, transverse flute; Kathryn Elkin, oboe; Adriana Alcaide, violin; María Sánchez, basse de violon; Sofie Vanden Eynde, theorbo; Esteban Mazer, harpsichord

When Jean-Baptiste Lully had died in 1687 a climate of liberty emerged in French music scene. This resulted in a greater interest for Italian music. In the next decades two important genres were introduced: the trio sonata and the cantata. The 20th-century French writer about music, Norbert Dufourcq, described the cantata as a "miniaturisation of the great tragédie lyrique". Like the opera the chamber cantata - which was mostly performed in the salons in Paris, without scenery or visual action - took its subjects from classical mythology. And although sometimes more than one character was represented, the cantata was usually sung by just one singer. The instrumental scoring was also modest: mostly one or two treble instruments - sometimes playing colla parte - and basso continuo.

This disc sheds light on a relatively little-known kind of cantata, the sacred or 'spiritual' cantata. This genre goes back to the 17th century, when mostly existing music was adapted to new sacred texts. This practice met some stern criticism, as the texts didn't always perfectly fit the music. The cantatas on this disc all contain original music.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre is one of the few female composers in music history before the 19th century. She was a celebrity and enjoyed the admiration and protection of Louis XIV. She was one of the first composers in France to write trio sonatas, and the very first to write an opera. She published three collections of chamber cantatas, the first two of which contain pieces on biblical subjects.

Le Passage de la Mer Rouge is about the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt, under the guidance of Moses. This cantata is descriptive, meaning that there is no character. The singer describes the events, in this case the passage through the Red Sea, whose waters are separated by God so that the people can pass. When the Egyptian armies come to catch them, the waters flow back and the Egyptians drown. This is all vividly depicted in the music, but with very modest means: soprano, one instrument - here violin, with the oboe sometimes playing colla parte - and basso continuo. The aria about the Pharao's decision to pursue the Jewish people is followed by an instrumental bruit de guerre depicting the disaster which hits him and his army.

Sébastien de Brossard also wrote cantatas which isn't surprising as he was a staunch admirer of the Italian style all his life. He also collected a large number of manuscripts which are now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. La Cheutte de Salomon is also a descriptive cantata and is about the last stage of King Solomon. He had a special relationship with God, and asked for and received exceptional wisdom. Since he asked for wisdom rather than peace and prosperity God gave him those on top of it. The first part of the cantata describes the peaceful state in which the Jewish people lived which is appropriately depicted by the transverse flute in the opening recitative. But the second part describes how he destroys it because of his love for many women, and the cantata ends with the moral lesson that love can make people move away from wisdom.

René Drouard de Bousset is a hardly-known French composer who was mainly active as an organist. As a composer he was a pupil of Nicolas Bernier, also an advocate of the Italian style who had studied for some time with Caldara in Rome. Bousset's cantata Judith is from a collection of sacred cantatas which dates from 1735. The subject is one of the most popular of the baroque era, and taken from the book of Judith, one of the Apocrypha of the Bible. It is more dramatic, especially the third recitative which describes how Judith kills Holofernes. The last aria is a song of praise for God. It begins with the words "bruyante trompette, seconde nos voix" (loud trumpet, support our voices), and the trumpet is imitated by the oboe and the violin, playing either unisono or in alternation and there are also fanfare figures in the voice and the basso continuo part.

In addition to the cantatas two specimens of the genre of the trio sonata are performed. Like I wrote above Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was an early composer of trio sonatas, and although her works in this genre have not been published they are assumed to date from around 1695. The Sonata III in played here with transverse flute and violin. De Brossard also wrote trio sonatas; the Sonata in g minor contains just two movements, and is played here by oboe and violin. A very short ritournelle whose context is not known is used here as a kind of sinfonia to the cantata by Bousset.

This disc deserves nothing but praise. First of all, we get acquainted here with a little-known genre, and the composers are not that well represented in the catalogue. I'm pretty sure nothing of Bousset has ever been recorded. Also highly commendable is the fact that the pronunciation of the French texts is strictly historical. Luanda Siqueira has a beautiful voice, and sings with great understanding and much expression. She also deals admirably with the dramatic elements of De Bousset's cantata. The instrumentalists give fine performances of the instrumental parts of the cantatas and deliver good performances of the trio sonatas.

The booklet contains comprehensive liner notes in French and English, but it is very disappointing that there are no English translations of te lyrics. That is something K617 is infamous for, and it is not very customer-friendly.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Le Tendre Amour

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