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Amour cruel
Michel LAMBERT (c.1610-1696)
Vos mépris chaque jour, air for voice, 2 viols and theorbo [03:43]
Jean DE SAINTE-COLOMBE (17th century)
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 58 'Les Roulades' [04:20]
Sébastien LE CAMUS (c.1610-1677)
Je veux me plaindre, air for voice, 2 viols and lute (arr. Susie Napper) [03:44]
Laissez durer la nuit, air for voice and theorbo [05:48]
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 6 'La Duchesse' [05:54]
Sébastien LE CAMUS
Amour, cruel Amour, air for voice and 2 viols (arr. Susie Napper) [03:34]
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 9 'Le Suppliant' [06:19]
Sébastien LE CAMUS
Forêts solitaires, air for voice and theorbo [02:35]
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 48 'Le Raporté': chaconne [06:20]
Ombre de mon amant, air for voice, 2 viols and theorbo [06:07]
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 32 'L'Eslevé changé' [04:03]
Sébastien LE CAMUS
On n'entend rien, air for voice and lute [03:38]
Concert à deux violes esgales No. 3 'Le Tendre' [06:50]
Suzie LeBlanc (soprano), Stephen Stubbs (lute, theorbo), Les Voix Humaines (Susie Napper, Margaret Little, viola da gamba)
rec. April 2000, Église Saint-Augustin, Saint-Augustin de Mirabel, Québec, Canada. DDD
ATMA ACD2 2216 [62:58]

The title of this disc, translated: 'cruel love', could suggest a programme of Italian secular music. After all, unhappy love is one of its most common subjects. But here we have a selection of French music from the mid-17th century. The content of the vocal items isn't fundamentally different from that of the Italian arias of that time. But the way French composers set this kind of text to music is quite different. This has much to do with specific French ideals and taste in musical matters.
In French culture of that time a strong display of human emotions was considered inappropriate. The French singer Pierre de Nyert, who was acquainted with Italian music, considered sobriety of expression as characteristic for the French style. The theorist Marin Mersenne expressed the difference between the French and the Italian style very well when he wrote that theatrical declamation must "accommodate itself to French sweetness" and that "songs are not meant to provoke anger and various other passions, but rather (...) to charm the spirit and the ear and to help us spend our life with a bit of gentleness amid all the harshness we encounter". The main purpose of French music is to please the ear.
The vocal pieces on this disc belong to the categories of the 'air de cour' (songs sung at court) or 'air sérieux' (serious song), mostly accompanied by the lute or theorbo, sometimes with instruments playing ritornelli. These parts are generally intended for violins, but played here on viols. The main composers of such songs are represented here: Michel Lambert and Sébastien Le Camus. In particular Lambert was famous for his songs, of which he composed more than three hundred.
The spirit of these songs is also present in the music for two viols by Jean de Sainte-Colombe, the most virtuosic and admired player of the viola da gamba in France in the second half of the 17th century. Not much is known with certainty about him: even his Christian name was unknown until fairly recently, as are the years of his birth and death. It was the American gambist Jonathan Dunford who discovered that his Christian name was Jean, and that very likely he was a Protestant. This could explain that his name just disappears after 1688, when the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV. His Protestant conviction could also be the reason he never achieved any position at court. He wrote a large number of 'concerts' for two viole da gamba, which he probably performed with his daughters, who were also gifted players of the viola da gamba. The pieces played here are not only often very virtuosic, but also full of expression. Some contain pretty strong dissonances, like the Chaconne from the 48th Concert (track 9).
The performers feel completely at home in this repertoire. Susie Napper and Margaret Little are specialists in French music, and are in the process of recording the complete 'Concerts à deux violes esgales' by De Sainte-Colombe. The name of their ensemble is most appropriate: Les Voix humaines - the human voices, which reflects the general opinion in France that "never an instrument had more approached the human voice than the viol" (Jean Rousseau). Their performances are brilliant and show the depth of expression of these pieces.
Suzie LeBlanc has the perfect voice for the 'airs', which are refined in the way they express emotion. She and lutenist Stephen Stubbs perform these songs with great sensitivity. The ornamentation is as refined and restrained as the songs themselves.
One aspect of this recording is noteworthy: the use of period pronunciation. This is based on a book from 1688, written by the singing-master Bénigne de Bacilly. According to the booklet he "states that, apart from enhancing the expressivity of a text, correct pronunciation communicates grammatical information which may otherwise be unclear to the listener." This proves that the use of period pronunciation is anything but merely academic.
The booklet contains an informative essay on the music and its historical context. It is a shame that the lyrics are not translated but that is the only minus about this splendid production.
Johan van Veen


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