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CD 1
French cantatas
DU BUISSON (d.1710)
Plainte sur la morte de Monsieur Lambert [05:16]
Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Pirame et Tisbé, cantate à voix seule et simphonie [17:35]
Philippe COURBOIS (fl.1705-1730)
L'Amant timide, cantate à voix seule [11:27]
Nicolas BERNIER (1665-1734)
Aminte et Lucrine, cantate à voix seule avec simphonie [15:19]
Jean-Baptiste STUCK (c.1680-1755)
Les Festes bolonnoises, cantate avec deux violons [12:54]
CD 2
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Questo silenzio ombroso, cantata a due [08:50]
Filli che esprime la sua fede a Fileno, cantata con violini e flauto [13:54]
Marc'antonio e Cleopatra, cantata da camera a due voci [13:43]
E pur vuolle il cielo e amore, cantata a due voci [09:40]
Ero e Leandro, cantata per alto [10:41]
Clori e Mirtillo, cantata a due voci [08:30]
CD 3
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
Medea in Corinto [14:33]
Soffri, mio caro Alcino [08:19]
Sonata da camera in D, op. 2,3 [05:47]
D'improvviso [10:06]
Sonata a 3 in e minor, op. 1,5 [08:10]
Vicino a un rivoletto [20:32]
CD 4
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Siedi, Amarilli mia [12:01]
Lasciami un sol momento [07:39]
Sonata for cello and bc in a minor [08:57]
Misero pastorello [11:07]
Sonata for 2 violins and bc in d minor [11:06]
Già la stagion d'amore [08:55]
CD 5
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Splenda l'alba in oriente (HWV 166) [11:12]
La Lucrezia (HWV 145) [17:09]
Sonata for 2 violins and bc in G, op. 5,4 [14:16]
Mi palpita il cor (HWV 132c) [13:21]
Carco sempre di gloria (HWV 87) [13:37]
Sandrine Piau (soprano) (*), Gérard Lesne (alto)
Il Seminario Musicale/Gérard Lesne
rec. 1990-1998. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3951532 [5 CDs: 62:41 + 65:20 + 67:52 + 59:48 + 70:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

The cantata is one of the most important musical genres of the baroque period. In particular in the early 18th century the chamber cantata was very popular, and large numbers of such works were composed, especially in Italy. These pieces were closely connected to the opera. The subject-matter of many cantatas was the same as that of the opera and both consisted of a sequence of recitatives and (da capo) arias. But as cantatas were performed in private homes they are more intimate in character. Gérard Lesne, who once declared himself more or less unsuitable for opera, is one of the strongest advocates of the chamber cantata.

This set contains five discs, four of which have already been reissued as a set about 10 years ago. The fact that they are reissued once again suggests the record company thinks there is a market for these recordings. When they were first released some of the composers represented here were not very well known. Handel is the exception but Caldara and Bononcini were almost unknown quantities. Alessandro Scarlatti was a bit better known, but not for his cantatas. Since that time much has changed, and today Scarlatti's music is regularly performed and recorded, including his chamber cantatas, and Caldara has also become a household name. Bononcini is the least-known of them, and his large output still waits rediscovery.

The first disc is devoted to French cantatas, and that is certainly a part of the repertoire which deserves to be better known. It was only in the first decades of the 18th century that French composers started to write chamber cantatas. At that time the influence of Lully and his followers as well as Louis XIV, who were staunch defenders of the French style, was waning. As a result the influence of the Italian taste was growing, and with it Italian musical forms like the trio sonata and the cantata. Interestingly the disc begins with a 'Plainte', a typical French genre of compositions written to commemorate a certain personality from public life. The fact that this Plainte was written in honour of Michel Lambert is symbolic: he was the main representative of the old French 'air de cour', which can be seen as the predecessor of the chamber cantata. When Lambert died in 1698 the genre of the 'air de cour' died with him, and the chamber cantata emerged. Clérambault was one of the main composers of cantatas, and here he merges Italian and French influences. The other composers on this disc did the same in various ways. Bernier even studied in Rome with Caldara, and with Jean-Baptiste Stuck we have a real Italian composer (of German descent) who entered the service of Philip II, Count of Orléans and nephew of Louis XIV.

Alessandro Scarlatti is one of the most prolific composers of cantatas. Around 600 of them have been preserved, mostly for solo voice and bc. It is nice that in Il Seminario Musicale's recording we get two solo cantatas but no less than four cantatas for two voices, soprano and alto. It is here, with the interaction between the two singers, that we come most close to opera. Scarlatti played an important role in the development of the style of the chamber cantata. The subject matter is mostly of a pastoral character, and we meet here characters which also show up in cantatas by contemporaries and later generations, both in France and in Italy.

Antonio Caldara worked first in Rome, then at the imperial court in Vienna. Here he wrote many oratorios, which is the genre he is mainly known for today. But while in Rome he wrote many operas which are still largely undiscovered. His output in the genre of the chamber cantata is limited, but of excellent quality. We get some fine specimen of his art here, in particular 'Medea in Corinto' and 'Vicino a un rivoletto'.

Bononcini, on the other hand, wrote a large number of cantatas, as well as music in most other genres of his time. He was universally praised for the sweetness of his melodies, the originality of his harmonies and his ability to translate texts into music. That is certainly proved by the cantatas on this disc, of which 'Siedi, Amarilli mia' is one of the finest.

Bononcini worked in several cities in Europe, and for some time also in London, where he was the main rival of Handel as far as the opera was concerned. Handel also wrote many cantatas; most of them date from the time he stayed in Italy, although he continued to write Italian cantatas after his arrival in London. As Handel's operas belong to the standard repertoire it is easy to see the similarity between them and the cantatas. That is particularly the case with La Lucrezia which was performed in one of the residences of Prince Ruspoli. It is a dramatization of Lucretia's torment and suicide. It ends with a scene, which consists of a short aria, an arioso, a recitative and a 'furioso'.

Gérard Lesne may not feel really at home in operas, there is nothing wrong with his sense of drama. He very well knows how to express the emotions which composers translated into music. Handel's La Lucrezia is a good example, and Lesne uses his chest register to good effect here. Other examples of his theatrical approach are Caldara's 'Vicino a un rivoletto' and Clérambault's 'Pirame et Tisbé'. The ensemble is very responsive to his interpretations and there are some nice instrumental intermezzo's. Lesne has always surrounded himself with first-class musicians, and so in these recordings we find people like the violinist Fabio Biondi, the cellist Bruno Cocset, the lutist Pascal Monteilhet and harpsichordists Pierre Hantaï and Blandine Rannou.

These recordings may date from at least 12 years ago they still sound fresh and up-to-date which is a great compliment to Gérard Lesne and his ensemble. For everyone interested in this kind of repertoire this is a set not to be missed.

Johan van Veen


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