This disc is devoted to French music of the 17th century. It
combines one of the most popular genres of vocal music, the
air de cour with the two most distinguished instruments,
the viola da gamba and the lute. The composers belong to the
lesser-known from this period, with the exception of Michel
Lambert, the most famous composer of airs de cour,
whose Vos mespris is one of the most frequently recorded
French songs of the baroque era. What was the leading thought
behind the programme is anybody's guess as the disc comes
without any liner-notes.
The air de cour is a secular song, mostly strophic,
and written roughly between the mid-16th and the mid-17th centuries.
A large part of this repertoire is scored for solo voice with
lute. François Richard was one of the first to compose airs
de cour with a basso continuo part. In 1614 he was ordinaire
de la musique de la chambre et de la chapelle du roi and
later worked as lute teacher to the choirboys of the royal chapel.
He spent some time in England at the service of Queen Henrietta
Maria, wife of Charles I. After his return he became compositeur
de la musique de la chambre du roi.
The first airs on this disc are by Jean-Baptiste Bésard, who
was from the previous generation. He was educated as lutenist
but also studied law and medicine. He spent some time in Rome
as well as in Germany. Here he worked most of his life, first
in Cologne, then in Augsburg. In recordings he only turns up
with pieces for lute. In the article on Bésard in New Grove
no vocal music is mentioned. I would have liked to know when
they were composed and how they have been preserved, but - as
I wrote - there are no liner-notes to tell us.
Three pieces are by Constantijn Huygens - not French, even though
his Christian name is spelled as Constantin in the
track-list. He was one of the main poets of the Netherlands
in its Golden Age, and also an important figure in the political
scene of the Republic. He stood in contact with some of the
main composers of his time. Only one collection of music has
been preserved. It contains psalms on Latin texts, Italian arie
and French airs, all for solo voice and basso continuo.
Graves tesmoins and the Sérénade are most
close to the French air de cour, but Quoy Clorinde,
despite its French text, shows strong Italian influence, and
is quite dramatic.
With Michel Lambert the genre of the air de cour reached
its pinnacle. He was educated as a choirboy in the chapel of
Gaston d'Orléans, the elder brother of King Louis XIII.
In the 1640s he started to make a career as a singer in Paris,
where he enjoyed the patronage of several people, among them
Cardinal Richelieu. He married a singer, and it is probably
through his sister-in-law, also a famous singer, that he had
access to the court. In 1651 Lambert performed as a dancer in
ballets at the court of Louis XIV, who had become formally King
in 1643. His first airs de cour were printed in collections
published by Christophe Ballard in the 1650s. The first publication
which was entirely devoted to his own airs appeared in 1660.
From 1661 until his death he held the position of maître
de la musique de la chambre du roi. How much he and his
art were admired is expressed in the last piece on this disc,
Mr Dubuisson's Plainte sur la mort de M. Lambert,
where he is called "l'auteur des plus beaux airs"
- the author of the most beautiful airs. It is a very emotional
piece and a worthy ending to this disc.
Constantijn Huygens is not the only Dutch connection in the
programme. Nicolas Vallet was of French birth, but settled in
the Netherlands in 1613 and worked here as a lutenist. He became
famous for his psalm settings and psalm arrangements. Also remarkable
are his lute quartets. Eduardo Egüez plays two préludes
and the Fantasye sur La Passameze D'italie.
Another prélude is probably by Gaultier, whose Christian
name is not given. There were various composers with that name,
and it isn't always possible to establish the authorship
of pieces handed down under that name. They were all lutenists,
so it is surprising that this prélude is played on
the viola da gamba. Is it an original piece for the gamba or
does Pierlot perform a lute piece? The Chaconne by
Mr De Machy is definitely a gamba piece. Together with Sieur
de Sainte Colombe he is considered one of the fathers of the
French gamba school. He published the first collection with
pièces de viole in France. He was a pupil of Nicolas
Hotman, a gamba player of Flemish birth. It is ironic that Hotman's
Ballet is placed between the vocal pieces by Constantijn
Huygens. In 1659 Hotman sent Huygens pieces for the viol and
for the theorbo which Huygens later ridiculed in a letter to
Henry Du Mont.
This disc contains some of the finest and most expressive French
music of the 17th century. It is hard to imagine a more suitable
voice than Céline Scheen's. One doesn't hear such
a beautiful voice that often, and her singing is exquisite and
refined. Her diction is immaculate, and she captures the character
of every single piece perfectly. It is striking how she differentiates
between the airs of Constantijn Huygens, using a wider dynamic
range in the Italianate Quoy Clorinde than in the more
French pieces. Lambert's Vos mépris may have
been recorded many times but I can't think of a better
performance than is given here, and it is miles ahead of Anne
Sofie von Otter's caricatural 'interpretation'
(on her disc Ombre
de mon amant). The only regrettable thing is that Ms Scheen
didn't decide to follow Stephan Van Dyck's example
of using historical pronunciation (D'un
Feu Secret). Eduardo Egüez and Philippe Pierlot deliver
very fine performances of the instrumental pieces and give excellent
support to Ms Scheen's voice. In Dubuisson's Plainte
the unity of voice and instruments contributes to this piece
receiving its maximum effect.
This is a desirable disc, even though liner-notes are missing
and the lyrics are printed in French, without any translation.
Johan van Veen
Nicolas VALLET (c1583-after
Jean-Baptiste BESARD (c1567-after
Ou luis tu soleil de mon ame [2:40]
Beaux jeux qui voyes clairement [2:31]
Constantijn HUYGENS (1596-1687)
Quoy Clorinde [1:38]
Nicolas HOTMAN (before
Graves tesmoins [2:49]
Fantasye sur La Passameze D'italie [3:05]
François RICHARD (c1580-1650)
Les yeux baignez de pleurs [4:11]
Beaux jeux [4:00]
Michel LAMBERT (c1610-1696)
Ah qui voudra desormais s'engager [2:06]
Par mes chants tristes et touchants [5:04]
Vos mespris [2:20]
Monsieur BASTIDE (?-?)
Arbres, rochers [3:04]
Mr DE MACHY (?-?)
Mr DUBUISSON (1622/23-1680/81)
Plainte sur la mort de M. Lambert [6:04]