Thomas-Louis BOURGEOIS (1676-1750)
Les Sirènes (1708) [16:42]
Borée (1708) [11:51]
Zéphire et Flore (1715) [12:23]
Hippomène (1708) [12:59]
Psiché (1715) [15:59]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Le Concert Lorrain/Anne-Catherine Bucher
rec. November 2011, Saint Poerre aux Nonnains, Metz
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.374 [72:38]
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.
Bourgeois is adept at scenic and descriptive writing.