Amour, viens animer ma voix! - French Bass Cantatas
Louis-Antoine DORNEL (1685-1765)
Ve Concert en trio [6:03]
André CAMPRA (1660-1744)
Le Jaloux [19:14]
Louis-Antoine DORNEL
VIe Concert en trio [12:14]
Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Pigmalion [14:43]
Louis-Antoine DORNEL
IIe Concert en trio [5:28]
Philippe COURBOIS (fl. 1705-1730)
Orphée [18:50]
Hugo Oliveira (baritone)
Ludovice Ensemble (Joana Amorim (transverse flute), Bojan Čičic (violin), Thibaud Robinne (trumpet), Nicholas Milne (viola da gamba), Miguel Henry (theorbo, guitar), Fernando Miguel Jaloto (harpsichord))/Fernando Miguel Jaloto
rec. May 2010, Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, Basse-Bodeux, Belgium. DDD
RAMÉE RAM 1107 [76:46]

During the first three decades of the 18th century a large number of cantatas were written by French composers. This bears witness to the growing influence of the Italian style. The structure of the Italian chamber cantata, with its sequence of recitatives and arias - including the da capo form -, was adopted but at the same time the French cantata developed its own features.
French composers avoided excessive coloratura and wide leaps and preferred the natural prosody which was a characteristic of French opera. The cantatas are certainly not devoid of dramatic elements, but these are mostly more restrained than in Italian music. Heavy emotional outbursts are extremely rare. Another difference is the role of obbligato instruments. The large majority of Italian chamber cantatas was scored for solo voice and basso continuo. Sometimes one or two melody instruments were used, mostly violins or recorders. In France most cantatas included instrumental parts, not only for violin, but also for transverse flute or oboe, and sometimes less common instruments like the hurdy-gurdy. In the cantata Orphée by Philippe Courbois one aria even has a part for trumpet. Some cantatas begin with an instrumental symphonie, and the instruments sometimes also participate in the recitatives.
The number of solo cantatas for low voice is rare, but probably not as rare as in the Italian repertoire. In the latter the soprano overwhelmingly dominates, whereas in French collections of cantatas usually one was written for another voice, mostly a baritone. This could also have been a reference to French tradition: in French operas the lower voices played a much more prominent role than in Italian opera.
This disc includes three cantatas by two well-known composers and one other. The latter is Philippe Courbois about whom very little is known. For some time he was maître de musique in the household of the Duchess of Maine whose home in Sceaux was an important centre of music-making in the early 18th century. Composers such as Bernier, Colin de Blamont and Mouret were also associated with it. Only one collection of cantatas for one or two voices from his pen is known, which was printed in 1710. Orphée is for bass, violin and bc, and shows Courbois's dramatic skills. You can hear this especially in the opening recitative which describes Orpheus's reaction to Euridice’s death. It’s highly dramatic, with a number of general pauses. The following lentement - a kind of arioso - and aria are full of expression, and so is the closing episode, when Orpheus loses Euridice once again. The aria with trumpet brings a strong contrast to the rather gloomy atmosphere in the rest of the cantata.
André Campra was a great dramatic talent as well, and felt attracted to opera from an early age. It was only after the successes of his first forays into the musical theatre that he felt free to devote his time to it. He published three books with, in total, 19 cantatas; one more cantata has been preserved in manuscript. Le Jaloux is from the third book and is scored for bass, two instruments and bc. It begins in a very dramatic fashion: the instruments open the proceedings with a symphonie with the description gracieusement, then suddenly the protagonist interrupts them: "Be silent, be silent!" He goes on by saying that he was wrong in assuming that music could chase his sadness away: "No, your art has no power". The Italian and the French traditions come together in this cantata. 'Goutons, goutons la Vengeance' (Let us taste revenge) is a kind of rage aria, but in a rather restrained manner. 'Someil, vien' (Come, sleep) is a sleep aria, or - as it is called in French opera - a sommeil. The cantata ends with a recitative.
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault was a prolific composer of cantatas: 25 are known from his pen, published in five volumes, with five printed independently. Pigmalion is from the second book and scored for bass, transverse flute, violin and bc. It is about the sculptor Pygmalion from Cyprus who falls in love with the statue he has created. He wishes it to become alive, and in the end his wish is fulfilled. The Italian influence in this cantata is reflected by the fact that two of the three arias have a da capo form. At the same time this cantata is very much French in character: the first aria has a nice and infectious rhythm, despite the text: "Love, what cruel fame have you ignited in my breast". It is rather the following recitative which expresses Pygmalion's desperate state of mind.
The young Portuguese baritone Hugo Oliveira gives fully idiomatic and strongly expressive accounts of these three cantatas. He finds exactly the right approach to their more dramatic parts. The sommeil in Campra's cantata is performed with great subtlety. He has a beautiful voice, his diction and pronunciation are outstanding. It is notable that the pronunciation follows the rules of what is known as français restitué, the kind of French which was spoken at the time these cantatas were composed. This has been practised in 17th-century airs de cour, for instance by Stephan Van Dyck (see here), but I haven't heard anything like that in this repertoire. In my ears it sounds very natural, but those who are more familiar with the French language than I am may need some time to get accustomed to it. The ensemble gives fine accounts of the instrumental parts. It also plays the three instrumental pieces by Dornel very well. Dornel is another composer about whom we know very little. His Concerts are scored for two instruments and bc; their texture is modelled after the Italian trio sonata, but the titles of the movements are all in French.
The booklet is - as always with this label - exemplary: complete lyrics with translations in English and German, informative liner-notes, a reference to the sources from which the music is taken and a list of the instruments used.
This disc has all the ingredients to qualify for Record of the Month status.  

Johan van Veen

Fully idiomatic and strongly expressive performances.