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Adam DE LA HALLE (c.1237-1288)
D’Amoureus Cuer Voel Chanter
Amours m'ont si douchement [9:28]
Bonne amourete me tient gai [0:18]
On me deffent que mon cuer pas ne croie [3:27]
Puis que je sui l'amourouse loi [4:52]
Merchi, Amours, de le douche dolour [5:50]
Diex, comment porroie [1:29]
Helas, ils n est mais nus qui aint [6:23]
Or voi jou bien qu il souvient [2:33]
A jointes mains vous proi [0:51]
Glorieuse Vierge Marie [4:35]
D’amourous cuer voel chanter [4:43]
Amours, et ma dame aussi [1:07]
On demande mout souvent qu' est Amours [9:01]
Fi, maris, de vostre amour [0:45]
Ma douche dame et Amours [5:13]
Qui a puchele ou dame amee [10:41]
Merchi, Amours [1:45]
Les Jardins de Courtoisie; Anne Delafosse-Quentin (soprano)
rec. 20-24 March, 2006, l’église de Pranles, France. DDD

Adam de la Halle will be best known to many for his Jeu de Robin et de Marion, the most recent recording of which (there are now four) is by Tonus Peregrinus and was released on Naxos in 2006. Born in Artois (near Arras) some time in the 1240s – possibly around 1237 – Adam was well known for his scholarly approach to poetry and chansons. Straddling the worlds and traditions of the court, the clergy and lay responsibilities, he came to epitomise the intellectual challenge to court culture whilst thriving on one of its most prominent topoi, courtly love.

Working in the trouvère tradition of northern France, the counterpart of the Occitan (southern) troubadours, Adam eventually followed Robert II, Count of Artois, to the court of Naples. His contribution to French vernacular theatre was as significant as was that of the troubadours and later the trouvères to broader European lyric vernacular poetry. For these reasons it’s good that his music - which really means his poetry and music - is receiving the greater attention it now is. It’s music which is driven, unsentimental, focused and extremely beautiful.

Just three dozen monophonic chansons of Adam’s survive. Common to almost all of them is the theme of douce douleur, mal joli – or ‘sweet pain’. There are almost half of these on this delightful CD, which range in length from eighteen seconds to nine and a half minutes. They are of amazing and consistent inventiveness: there is far more to such chansons than stock phrases of complaint and longing. It’s necessary for the lover knight to elevate and imbue his love with such otherwise laudable traits as moderation, gentility and altruism – in the hopes of impressing his worthiness on ‘his’ lady.

This parallelism has the effect of requiring ‘profane’ (as opposed to amorous) imagery, for example, in his addresses to her and in his self-reflection. Love is seen in the light of a purity, which manages – for all its intensity – to put desire second. The music and the relationship of words to music must endorse and reflect this. They must also reflect a distance, a paradoxical taking of the musician/poet and his lover persona somewhat out of the picture whilst retaining the intensity. This Adam achieves with variety and conviction.

This distance is also one of the successes of Les Jardins de Courtoisie with soprano/director Anne Delafosse-Quentin. They are in tune with the idioms and registers of this music and obviously relish performing it, without at the same time degrading its profundity, however perhaps alien to us the genre may seem seven centuries later.

The presentation of the CD may be a little too ‘flashy’ for some… the instrumentation, the choice of instruments is spectacular, very varied and perhaps a little too bright (in Merchi, Amours, for example) for the restraint of the simple plaintive lines of the voice.

That vocal line is perhaps most effective when unaccompanied or plainly underlined by melodic accompaniment alone. The final track (Qui a puchele ou dame amee) fades out and contains perhaps unexpected ‘effects’ - there are some long gaps between tracks anyway. So the CD, which was not recorded as a concert, has the feel in places of musicians trying a little too hard to commend the music to listeners unfamiliar with its treasures by pushing sounds in their direction with a banquet of ‘bells and whistles’ (literally) instead of unadorned, sparse fare.

For example Puis que je sui l'amourouse loi is one of several tracks where the wind players and On demande mout souvent qu' est Amours the strings seem to be aiming for an effect more redolent of the Indian subcontinent than northern France. Not always convincing in that the remoteness of the thirteenth century French sound is its appeal; it’s not necessary to soften that by adding a ‘supporting cast’. D’amourous cuer voel chanter is much more effective – it has Delafosse-Quentin’s voice alone. But these techniques will not be intrusive for every listener.

If this is an attempt at over-interpretation, the music-making is nevertheless colourful and surely represents one legitimate approach to making the most of the material. Les Jardins de Courtoisie clearly know what they are doing. Their website lists seven CDs current, all of them exploring the chanson from the trouvères to the Baroque air de cour. Theirs is an expertise well worth getting to know. It’s unlikely that this will be the definitive collection of these chansons. But it makes a welcome addition to any collector’s library of French mediaeval song.

Mark Sealey



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