One of the nicest things which can happen to a reviewer
is to receive a disc of unknown music which turns out to be
quite a discovery. It doesn't happen that often, but this one
is certainly a discovery to treasure.
The only composer with the name of Bourgeois I was familiar
with was Louis Bourgeois (1510 - 1561). He was a French composer
who became a follower of the Reformer Jean Calvin, and edited
the Genevan Psalter, which was sung by the Huguenots and is
still sung by Calvinist congregations today. There is no mention
in the booklet whether Thomas-Louis is his descendant.
Bourgeois was born in Hainault, which today is a province
of Belgium. Between 1700 and 1705 he was active as a church
musician in Toul and Strasbourg, then went to Paris to sing
as an haute-contre in the Académie Royale de Musique. He also
gave music lessons and published his first compositions: a book
with chamber cantatas and two ballet operas. In 1721 he was
in charge of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. He was forced
to leave because of financial mismanagement, and went to The
Hague, where he headed the French theatre.
From 1728 to 1735 he sang at the music academy of Dijon,
which was founded by Jean-Philippe Rameau's brother Claude.
As the academy closed down he returned to Paris where he again
composed music for the theatre. He also wrote chamber music,
which has all been lost, and motets which - according to contemporary
sources - were much appreciated. Just one of these has been
preserved. But it seems he had a special preference for secular
music, and in particular the chamber cantata. He composed 33
works in that genre between 1708 and 1744. The cantatas recorded
here are from the first and second books, dating from 1708 and
As most composers of chamber cantatas Bourgeois mixed elements
of the French and the Italian styles. The fact that almost all
arias are written in the da capo form is evidence of the Italian
influence. There is quite a lot of text expression in the vocal
parts, and both voice and instruments illustrate the verbal
meaning. In the cantata Ariane the soprano and the violin imitate
the sound of trumpets in the ariette 'Mille trompettes éclatantes':
"A thousand blaring trumpets carry his glory to the skies."
The viola da gamba, which was already in decline in Bourgeois's
time, is frequently used in these cantatas - a kind of conservative,
typically French element. In the longest aria on this disc,
'Amour, ne cherchez plus', from L'Amour et Psyché, it accompanies
the soprano, and also creates the plaintive atmosphere in the
instrumental 'symphonie' which precedes the aria.
Another feature of these cantatas which contributes to
their often dramatic character is the frequent uninterrupted
shift from recitative to ariette or aria, and the introduction
of arioso elements into the recitative. In Le berger fidèle
this is most effectively happening in 'Mais je me flatte en
vain': it starts as a recitative, in a reflective mood, but
then, on the words "It is too much; let us leave Doris",
it turns into an arietta.
Isabelle Desrochers has a very fine voice, which is well
suited to this kind of music. She exploits the dramatic aspects
without exaggerating. It is French music, after all, and aimed
at pleasing the ear of the audience. Her voice also blends well
with the instruments, which are excellently played. The tenor
Thibaut Lenaerts has an appropriate voice, and also sings well,
but unfortunately he sounds stressed in the upper notes. It
seems the lower voice in L'Amour et Psyché is written for haute-contre
- Bourgeois's own type of voice - but Lenaerts doesn't have
quite the tessitura it requires.
Apart from this I have only one complaint: the pronunciation
of the French texts. I believe enough is known about period
pronunciation to make the modern pronunciation used here inexcusable.
It is also a little odd to read in the booklet that in this
recording a cello is used in the basso continuo, whereas no
cello player is mentioned. In fact, the role of the string bass
is shared by the viola da gamba and the violone.
To sum up: this is a real discovery. I have listened to
these cantatas with increasing satisfaction and admiration.
French chamber cantatas can be a little boring after a while,
but I had no problem at all listening to an hour of this music.
I strongly recommend this recording, and I hope we shall hear
more from this composer in the future.