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.
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.
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.
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when the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV.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
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.
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.
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
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
Johan van Veen
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