musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Sébastien DE BROSSARD (1655 - 1730): "Oratorios, Leandro"

Chantal Santon Jefferey, Eugénie Warnier, soprano; Isabelle Druet, mezzo-soprano; Jeffrey Thompson, hautecontre; Vincent Bouchot, tenor; Benoit Arnould, bass
La Rêveuse
Dir: Benjamin Perrot, Florence Bolton

rec: June 28 - July 1, 2010, Paris, Église luthérienne du Bon Secours
Mirare - MIR 125 (© 2011) (66'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Dialogus Poenitentis Animae cum Deo; Leandro, cantata; Oratorio sopra l'Immaculata Conceptione della B. Vergine; Sonata II in C

Stéphan Dudermel, Benjamin Chénier, violin; Florence Bolton, viola da gamba; Benjamin Perrot, theorbo; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord; Emmanuel Mendrin, organ

Sébastien de Brossard is one of the most remarkable characters of the music scene in France around 1700. He not only was a prolific composer, he was also an encyclopedist who published the first music dictionary in France. Later encyclopedias, like those by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France and Johann Gottfried Walther in Germany took his work as a model. His thorough knowledge of all kinds of music was largely based on his own collection. In the 1720 he bequeathed it to the Bibliothèque Royale, now part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It comprised more than 1,000 scores and theoretical works.

This collection included not only French music but also pieces from other countries, like Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. His knowledge of German music, for instance Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Rosenmüller, is most surprising as the interest of French music was largely confined to the products of Italian composers. The present disc bears witness to De Brossard's interest in and knowledge of the Italian style. In fact, Brossard may have been an advocate of the goûts réunis the music on this disc is written in purely Italian style. There is very little French in any of the four pieces which La Rêveuse has selected.

The two pieces on an Italian text are strongly influenced by the oratorios of Carissimi. The Oratorio sopra l'immaculata conceptione della B. Vergine is, despite its Italian title, on a Latin text by an unknown author. Unfortunately it is incomplete: only the first half of the libretto has been set to music. It is not known whether Brossard left it unfinished or the second part has been lost. This oratorio starts with a sonatina, then Human Nature (Natura Humana) complains about the misery of mankind and asks for salvation. Virtue (Virtus) then asks God to cease his punishment. Idolatry (Gentilitas) joins them: "Appear, O hope that gladdens us". We then hear an "infernal symphony", followed by Adam and the fathers (Adamus & Patres) in hell who express their misery. In the second part - which is missing - the angels accompany the archangel Gabriel, singing the glory of the Virgin Mary and the Light of the World. This oratorio contains strong expression, and in particular the laments of Adam and the fathers is highly evocative.

The second oratorio, Dialogus poenitentis animae cum Deo is a dialogue between a repentant soul and God. After an instrumental introduction - molto adagio - the soul asks God: "O hear and attend, hear my voice, and despise me not". God then requires repentance and shame, which the soul is only too willing to express: "I repent, for I have sinned". God then assures him: "I will never despise a contrite and humble heart". The piece ends with a duet of the soul and God.

The third piece, Leandro, is a cantata about Hero and Leander, two mythological figures which were often the subjects of cantatas. This is the first cantata written by a French composer - probably in 1699/1700, but it has very little in common with the cantatas we know from composers like Clérambault or Campra. There are no recitatives and arias, it is written as a series of solos, duets and trios. This cantata could be considered an oratorio with a secular text. The largest part of the text is descriptive and in indirect speech. There are no roles, and the largest part of this cantata is comparable to the role of the Historicus in Carissimi's cantatas. The text is often graphically depicted, and the sad ending is very emotional.

All three vocal items contain various instrumental sinfonias or ritornellos which reflect the Italian instrumental music of Brossard's time. The trio sonata which completes the programme is also Italian in style. That doesn't surprise as Brossard copied sonatas of the likes of Corelli and Legrenzi. This sonata consists of three movements, each of which contains various contrasting sections.

The quality of the music which is presented here is impressive. De Brossard earns his rightful place alongside Marc-Antoine Charpentier with whom he has much in common. The ensemble La Rêveuse delivers exemplary performances. The singers fully explore the expression of the texts, and in the ensembles their voices match perfectly. The strings underline the dramatic character of the vocal pieces and deliver an incisive performance of the sonata.

This disc should be an eye-opener and will hopefully lead to a more extensive exploration of De Brossard's oeuvre. For me this disc is one of the best I have heard this year.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

La Rêveuse

CD Reviews