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"Le Retour de la Paix - Cantates et concerts royaux"

Dorothée Leclair, sopranoa
Le Parlement de Musique
Dir: Martin Gester

rec: June 27 - 30, 2011, Walbourg, Église Abbatiale
K617 - K617230 (© 2011) (61'43")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749): L'isle de Délos, cantatea [2]; Sonate La Félicité; Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737): 2e Concert (plainte; sarabande; rondeau; fugue) [3]; 5e Concert 'La guerre' (marche; arrivée au camp) [3]; 6e Concert 'La paix' (mélange des trompettes et des musettes, rondeau; mélange des fifres, des tambours et des musettes) [3]; Le Retour de la Paix, cantatea [1]

Source: [1] Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Cantates, premier livre, 1709; [2] Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Cantates françoises à I. et II. voix avec simphonie et sans simphonie, Livre 3, 1716; [3] Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Concerts pour la flûte traversière et autres instruments, 1724

Marjorie Pfister, transverse flute, piccolo; Patrick Blanc, musette; Hiram Santos, bassoon, kettledrums; Giuseppe Frau, Roland Callmar, trumpet; Stéphanie Pfister, Clémence Schaming, violin; Emmanuelle Guigues, viola; Yasunori Imamura, theorbo; Martin Gester, harpsichord

War and peace are among those subjects which frequently inspired writers, painters and composers. This is understandable as they were part of everyday life. The history of the 17th and 18th centuries is full of wars, and that has left its mark in the music written at that time. Compositions were often directly related to a war, for instance those which were written to celebrate military victories. The famous Te Deum by Marc-Antoine Charpentier is just one example. Other compositions were the result of peace treaties being signed, like the Treaty of Utrecht, which inspired Handel to compose his Utrecht Te Deum & Jubilate. But the tribulations of war found their expression in music as well. During the Thirty Years' War in Germany (1608-1648) the traditional texts Da pacem, Domine and its German counterpart, Verleih uns Frieden, received a special meaning.

Over the centuries many pieces have been written which refer in several ways to the subject of war and peace. To what extent these can be taken fully seriously is an interesting subject. In regard to the meaning of such pieces one shouldn't forget that 'war' was also used in a metaphorical way, referring to the struggle of the faithful to resist temptation and stick to their faith in God.

The repertoire of music relating to the subject of war and peace is large and various. Spanish composers wrote their battallas for organ, composers all over Europe composed peaces depicting a battle, for different instruments or instrumental ensembles, and in many vocal items the same subject turns up. This disc is devoted to French music from the early 18th century. It not only brings pieces which are related to war and peace but also reflect the shift in aesthetics which took place at the time, partly under the influence of the increasing popularity of the Italian style.

In his liner-notes Jérôme Dorival sums up nicely how the character of music for smaller forces changed. "The present recording demonstrates that, in the case of music, it was the cantata and the instrumental concert that were responsible for spreading the perfume of the Regency even before it began chronologically - a perfume so heady and insiduous that it was slowly to undermine the foundations of Lullian tragedy: no more dialogues or rhetoric of the passions, no more spectacle, but something else, new, intimate, evocative. Invocation made way for evocation. The goddess no longer descended in person from Olympus, and only her image was conjured up".

The works of the two composers represented on this disc serve well to demonstrate this change in aesthetics. In 1724 Michel Pignolet de Montéclair published a series of six Concerts pour la flûte traversière et autres instruments. Excerpts from three of these concerts are played. Some time ago I reviewed a disc with the concerts 3 to 6, performed by the Ensemble Pian & Forte. I criticized the decision to play them with the trumpet rather than the transverse flute. Although my assessment of this disc largely stands, since then I have seen the score and noted that in some movements Montéclair requires various instruments, like the oboe or the violin, and even trumpet and kettledrums. This shows how important it is that encycopedias and booklets of recordings mention the complete titles of collections of music. The performances here make use of trumpets and kettledrums, and also of the musette. "Montéclair's purpose here is to bring the sounds of life into the home, that is to say to take tunes that the public may have heard at the opera, in military parades, cavalry displays etc., and arrange them for a variety of forces (...) so that they could be played in domestic circumstances", Dorival writes. From that perspective these pieces represent the traditional taste of bringing the opera into the home.

Dorival argues that Montéclair's cantata Le Retour de la Paix, on the other hand, marks a breach with this tradition, "for the cantata abandons the invocation characteristic of the stage to turn towards evocation. Hence this is not a miniature opera, as has too often be claimed, for nothing is actually represented. On the contrary, everything is transformed into mental imagery". The instruments play a crucial role in the creation of a 'mental imagery', as they not only play in the arias but are also involved in most recitatives. Very effective are the staccato chords of the strings in the aria 'Fille du Ciel!': "Daughter of heaven! Hasten, lovely peace! Come and save those mortals who remain". Although Montéclair was open to the Italian style, in this cantata he hesitantly makes use of it, and in several ways remains faithful to the traditional French taste in regard to setting texts to music.

One of Montéclair's most illustrious contemporaries was Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, one of the main composers of chamber cantatas. He also composed a cantata on the present subject, Le triomphe de la paix, but that has not been selected for this disc. The second part begins with one of Clérambault's rare instrumental works, La Félicité, a sonata for two violins and bc, with an infectious rhythm. It serves well as introduction to the cantata L'isle de Délos, which refers to the island which in Greek mythology was the birthplace of Apollo, the god of song, music and poetry, and therefore an island of artistic pleasures. As one may expect this cantata includes an air de musette, and it is an indication of the idea of evocation that the instrument musette is not used here - its sound is imitated by the violins and the flute. In the recitative 'Nos désirs sont comblés' the mythological character of Philomela turns up who was transformed into a nightingale. This is reflected by the flute, depicting the singing of the nightingale and the echo the text refers to: "The echo awakes at her songs, and repeats them after her". In this cantata Clérambault embraces the Italian style as the dacapo arias show.

This is a most interesting disc, not only because it shows the way the subject of war and peace has been worked out in France in the early 18th century, but also in demonstrating the aesthetic changes which took place at the time. It does so in a more refined and subtle way than is often the case. The liner-notes by Jérôme Dorival are thought-provoking in this respect and deserve attention. The performances of the instrumental parts are very good. I particularly liked the way the rhythms of Clérambault's sonata are realised. But elsewhere the various members of Le Parlement de Musique are also impressive, for instance in the way the various effects in the cantata are explored. I am a bit in two minds about Dorothée Leclair. She is excellent in the way she deals with the various texts; their meaning is effectively expressed in her singing. It is mainly her vibrato which I don't particularly like. She doesn't use it incessantly, but still too frequently. From a stylistic point of view Ms Leclair's performances can't fully satisfy.

That doesn't take anything away from my great appreciation of this disc. Lovers of French music should not hesitate to purchase it.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Dorothée Leclair
Le Parlement de Musique

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