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‘Lamentations – Holy Week in Provence’
Guillaume BOUZIGNAC (before 1592 – after 1641)

Heu! Unus ex vobis [03:08]
Jean de la CEPPEDE (1548 – 1623)

Mais qui vous meut, Seigneur* [01:20]
Elzéar GENET dit CARPENTRAS (c1470-1548)

Vexilla regis [06:57]
Jean GILLES (1668 - 1705)

Première Lamentation pour le Mercredy Saint au Soir [17:52]
Zacharie DE VITRE (1659 - ?)

Comme Trois Forgerons* [01:14]

Ha! Plange [02:45]

Première Lamentation pour le Jeudy Saint au Soir [11:24]
Pierre GODOLIN (c1610)

Sur l’Albre de la Crotz* [00:52]

Ne avertas faciem tuam

Première Lamentation pour le Vendredi Saint au Soir [09:36]
The Boston Camerata: Anne Azéma, reader*, soprano; Frederick Jodry, countertenor; William Hite, Christopher Kale, tenor; Daniel McCabe, bass-baritone; Paul Guttry, bass; Robert Mealy, Dana Maiben, violin; Harold Lieberman, viola; Carol Lewis, viola da gamba; Michael Dolbow, violone; Frances Conover Fitch, organ
Schola Cantorum of Boston (dir: Frederick Jodry)
Dir: Joel Cohen
Recorded in April 1994 at the Campion Centre, Boston, USA DDD
WARNER APEX 2594 60151 2 [56:54]

"Provence, Languedoc, and Aquitaine played a greater part in the history of French music than one might otherwise suppose - not everything happened at Versailles." With this sentence Philippe Beaussant opens his liner notes to this recording of sacred music by composers from the Provence. This CD concentrates on music written for Holy Week, mainly settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which were sung on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as part of the Office of Tenebrae.

Michel Lambert introduced the Lamentations to France, and other French composers, like Charpentier, Brossard and François Couperin followed in his footsteps, even as far as the style of composing is concerned. Their settings are all for one to three solo voices, with a small instrumental accompaniment, often basso continuo only.

On this CD we find a completely different setting of the First Lamentation (Première Lamentation) for the three respective days, by Jean Gilles. It seems these have been composed at the early stages of Gilles as composer, probably in Aix-en-Provence. Gilles has composed the texts of the Lamentations, including the Hebrew letters at the beginning of every section, in the style of the French ‘grand motet’: an alternation of passages for one or more solo voices and chorus, with an accompaniment of strings and basso continuo. Philippe Beaussant refers to the fact that musical life in Provence was influenced by Italy. That is reflected by Gilles’ setting of the Lamentations: orchestral effects and harmony are used to underline the text (e.g. dissonance on the words ‘plorans ploravit’ in the First Lamentation).

Another remarkable composer represented here is Guillaume Bouzignac. His music was never published, and he was never attached to the royal court or chapel and as a result his music was soon forgotten. It was only rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century. The American musicologist James Anthony wrote about Bouzignac’s music: "There is a degree of individuality in his music altogether remarkable in a period of general conformity within a prescribed genre. Simply stated, there is no other music of the time that looks the same on the page or sounds the same as the motets of Bouzignac." The two items on this recording are both connected to the Passion of Christ. "Heu! Unus ex vobis" contains a short scene from the hours before Jesus’ death at the cross. It is a ‘dialogue motet’ in which the solo voice sings the words of Jesus and the chorus acts as the disciples at the Last Supper and Judas and the crowd at the arrest. "Ha! Plange" is a lament on the crucifixion with the refrain: "Ah! lament, daughter of Jerusalem; Ah! lament, virgin daughter of Zion". It is very expressive, highly declamatory piece of music, which is almost ‘un-French’ in its very drastic illustration of the text.

There is one piece from the renaissance: the Passion motet "Vexilla regis" by Elzéar Genet de Carpentras ("The standards of the King appear; the mystery of the Cross shines forth in glory"). It is an alternatim setting: the uneven verses are in plainchant, the even polyphonic.

There is also a plainchant setting of another text for Passiontide: "Ne avertas faciem tuam". It is sung in the traditional Provençale way, with many small ornaments. It shows how many different forms of plainchant existed before the unification attempts by the Roman Catholic Church at the beginning of the 20th century.

In between, Anne Azéma reads some traditional texts in the language of the Provence - at least, so it seems, since this CD doesn’t contain the words of the items in this recording, and the liner notes don’t tell anything about them.

The booklet is the only problem I have with this CD: there is plenty information about Gilles, but none at all about Bouzignac or Carpentras. And the lack of lyrics is a great pity: why are these so often omitted in reissues? There will be financial reasons, I suppose, but when will record companies start to realise that lyrics are indispensable in cases like this?

As far as the interpretation is concerned: I am very impressed by the way the music is sung and played. We have a real ensemble here, where everyone involved follows the same path. The singers are excellent and blend very well. The instrumentalists are playing expressively.

As far as I know there are no other recordings of Gilles’ Lamentations. The two motets by Bouzignac have been recorded by William Christie with Les Arts Florissants (Harmonia mundi France), but I prefer the performances by Cohen. In particular the performance of the motet "Heu! Unus ex vobis" is much more convincing here: in Christie’s recording it sounds like a piece of Russian Orthodox music, with a solo part which is too pathetic. I am surprised, though, that here the Italian pronunciation of Latin is used. I can’t figure out why.

But that hasn’t spoilt my enjoyment. I strongly recommend this recording.

Johan van Veen

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