Not a huge amount is known about Thomas-Louis Bourgeois and
there is no portrait. He was a singer employed in cathedrals
and clearly widely admired for his ‘Haute-Contre’
voice (the French so-called high tenor). He wrote songs, gravitated
to Paris and was again admired, mixing with the great and the
good, before being appointed to a prestigious position as director
of the Monnaie Theatre in Brussels. Thereafter he was able to
devote much of his time to composition.
The Cantatas in this disc, which have never before been recorded,
date from the years 1708 to 1715. This would place him in Paris,
as he’d entered the Académie Royale de Musique
in 1707, and six years later he put on Les Amours Déguisé,
which was to prove his most famous opera-ballet.
The five cantatas come from the first two books of his Cantates
Françaises. He wrote 45 larger or smaller scale cantatas
in his composing career, so this represents a decent percentage
for evaluation. Bourgeois clearly belongs to the pastoral cantata
composers, and both his texts (derived from Greek mythology)
and vocal and instrumental deployment speak of a practical composer.
Accompanying instrumentation is never excessive, but always
capable of supplying relevant colour and timbral effects. The
vocal line is occasionally quite florid, recitatives ably deployed.
In these respects he followed the prevailing idea of the division
of body (recitative) and soul (aria).
Thus the flute proves consoling in its decorative and lyric
lines in Les Sirènes, the focal point of which
is the long and tender aria L’amour with its contrasting
central section. Note, too, how briskly and well the accompanying
strings supply requisite force in their accompaniment to the
fast aria Fuyés, fuyés. Sometimes Bourgeois
dispenses with a Prelude, pitching us straight into the recitative,
as he does in three of the five cantatas. One can sense the
operatic intensity generated during the aria Un orage affreux
in the cantataBorée and just how much energy can
be generated by often very few forces, in this case cello, guitar,
theorbo and harpsichord.
Bourgeois is also adept at scenic and descriptive passages.
The are some delightfully avid nightingales in the gracious
aria Philomelle revient in Zéphire et Flore,
from the second book of Cantatas of 1715. The cello’s
accompanying line animates the opening aria in Hippomène
(1708) and the guitar adds demotic urgency to the ingeniously
performed first aria in Psiché. The accompaniment
in this cantata is quite powerful and, within its small scale
means, quite extravagant. Maybe the sense of theatricality is
overdone in the recitative Psiché par ce refus,
but at least strong feelings are being generated. Here Carolyn
Sampson displays her real verve and stylistic affinity in this
kind of repertoire. At first I felt her vibrato was somewhat
too oscillatory, but in truth it suits the nature of the writing
with increasing success. The band plays, as noted, with considerable
dash, directed by harpsichordist-director Anne-Catherine Bucher.
A fine acoustic, and recording, are complemented by helpful
notes on which I’ve drawn for biographical matters.