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Michel LAMBERT & Sébastien LE CAMUS: "Douce Félicité"

Il Festino
Dir: Manuel de Grange

rec: July 4 - 7, 2016, Paris, Chapelle de l'hôpital de Notre-Dame de Bon Secours
Musica Ficta - MF8027 (© 2017) (63'30")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Lambert

Sébastien LE CAMUS (c1610-1677): Laissez durer la nuit, impatiente Aurore [1]; Parmi le vert naissant & les charmants ombrages [1]; Que j'aime encore ce beau séjour! [1]; Que ta voix divine me touche [1]; Vous serez les témoins de mes vives douleurs [1]; Michel LAMBERT (c1610-1696): Ah! puisque la rigueur extrême [2]; Autant que j'ai d'amour vous avez de beauté [2]; D'un feu secret je me sens consumer [2]; Douce Félicité, ne quittons point ces lieux [2]; Ombre de mon amant [2]; Que d'amants séparés languissent nuit et jour [2]; Vos jeux adorables [2]; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Rochers, vous êtes sourds [4]; Jean DE SAINTE-COLOMBE (fl 1658-1687/c1701): Chaconne Le Rapporté [3]

Sources: [1] Sébastien Le Camus, Airs à 2 & 3 parties, 1678; [2] Michel Lambert, Airs à 1, 2, 3, & 4 parties avec la basse-continue, 1689; [3] Jean de Sainte-Colombe, Concerts à deux violes esgales, c1690 (ms); [4] André Campra, Fragments de M. de Lully, pastiche représenté sur la scène de l'Académie royale de musique, 1702

Dagmar Sasková, Barbara Kusa, dessus; François-Nicolas Geslot, haute-contre; Francisco Javier Mañalich, taille, viola da gamba; Arnaud Richard, basse; Vojtech Semerád, Josef Zák, violin; Ronald Martin Alonso, Antoine Touche, viola da gamba; Manuel de Grange, lute, theorbo; Felipe Guerra, harpsichord

One of the main genres of musical entertainment among the higher echelons of society in 17th-century France was the air de cour. The term was used for the first time by the music publisher Adrian Le Roy who in 1571 published the collection Livre d'air de cours miz sur le luth: songs for voice and lute. He explained that he had adapted simple songs which were known as vaudeville or voix de ville. Some of these were originally written by Nicolas de la Grotte, on texts by Pierre de Ronsard. Until the end of the century various collections of airs de cour were published, but these were all polyphonic. However, they were different from the chansons which were written earlier in that they were simpler, strophic and homophonic. That allowed the text to be more clearly understandable.

During the 17th century the air de cour gave way to what was known as air sérieux. This was the main genre of secular music performed at the ruelles, "largely female salons in which the literati and upper class endeavoured to establish new codes of social interaction, seeking a new system of fashionable manners that would encompass matters both of the heart and of the mind. Here aristocrats, professional poets, amateur versifiers and musicians strove to explore and depict every nuance of feeling and all the rigours of the 'empire of love', which were idealised in sophisticated conversation, literary games, précieux (refined) poetry and music", Thomas Leconte writes in his liner-notes to a recording of such air sérieux by the ensemble Il Festino, directed by Manuel de Grange.

Like the airs de cour, the airs sérieux were strophic; they were scored for one to three voices and basso continuo. Large numbers of airs were included in anthologies. The famous publisher Robert Ballard printed the first of them in 1658 and in 1694 the last was printed by his son Christophe; the total number of books with airs which came from Ballard's press, was 37. Among the most prominent composers of airs sérieux were Michel Lambert and Sébastien Le Camus; the former is still quite well known, especially for his Ombre de mon amant, which has appeared in many recordings. Both composers figure prominently in this recording, together with Jean-Baptiste Lully, Lambert's son-in-law.

Lambert was not only active as a composer, but also as a singer and singing teacher. He became closely associated with the court, and was given the privilege to publish his own songs. These were very well received and enjoyed several reprints. Le Camus was also associated with the court; in 1660 he was appointed maître de la musique to Queen Maria Theresa, and in 1661 he succeeded Louis Couperin as viol and theorbo player in the Musique de la Chambre du Roi. It was only after his death that a collection of his songs was published by Ballard. All of them had been published before, but the main reason for the printing of a collection entirely devoted to Le Camus's songs was that the versions in the anthologies were often full of errors. The airs by Lambert, mostly taken from an edition of 1689, are also sometimes different from earlier versions, but that was not so much a matter of correction, but rather of revision. Lambert often extended the number of parts to two or three, and sometimes even four or five. Moreover, in some cases he added an instrumental ritornello. Some airs include contrasting scorings, from solo to quartet.

Lambert did not only add something to his songs, he also omitted something: in the collection of 1660 all the airs had a double, a version of the melody with ornaments, divisions and cadenzas. The doubles not only allowed the singer to show his virtuosity, but also to adapt the text of a different stanza to the music. In 1689 these doubles were omitted, but Thomas Leconte writes that this does not mean that the art of adding doubles had disappeared. He mentions one example: Lully's Rochers, vous êtes sourds, originally included in the ballet La naissance de Vénus of 1665, was reused, with doubles, by André Campra in the pasticcio Fragments de M. de Lully in 1702. This piece has also been attributed to Lambert, which is one example of many problems with regard to authenticity of airs sérieux.

The by far best-known piece in the present programme is Lambert's Ombre de mon amant. It was already famous in his own time. When it appeared in Mercure galant, it was accompanied by the following comment: "Here is an air that you will find admirable even though it is not entirely new, since everything that the celebrated Mr Lambert produces is immediately circulated everywhere. It is no small thing to say that you will not find it as accurately set down as in the version I now present to you. The basso continuo is added, with which few people would be able to provide you. The words accord perfectly with the subject, and have something so touching about them that it is easy to tell that they come from a good source."

It is included in many recordings of baroque solo songs, but the performance is different from what we often hear. It seems that the tempo is a little faster than in most recordings, and whereas many performers take quite some liberties, the performers here stay close to the intentions of the composer. The main difference, however, is that the text is pronounced in historical manner. That is one of the assets of this recording. Too often performers use a modern pronunciation, whether in airs sérieux, in chamber cantatas of the early 18th century, or in opera. There is still a long way to go in this department, but the ensemble Il Festino shows how it should be done and how much it contributes to a convincing interpretation of these songs. It is a specimen of the historical approach to the repertoire. The ornamentation in the repeats also attest to the thorough understanding of the stylistic features of these songs. In addition, the ensemble consists of excellent singers, whose voices are ideally suited to the repertoire and blend perfectly.

This is a fine collection of lovely songs, part of a repertoire which is still little known, but will appeal to anyone with an ear for the subtle and refined art which is a hallmark of French music of the 17th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Il Festino

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