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René Drouard de BOUSSET (1703 - 1760)
Cantates spirituelles
Le Naufrage de Pharaon** [17:15]
Sixième Cantate Tirée du Pseaume 147* [12:13]
Premiere Cantate Tirée du Pseaume 83* [11:50]
Abraham* [13:50]
Le Tendre Amour (Michiko Takahashi* (soprano), Bernhard Hansky** (baritone), Sébastien Perrin (transverse flute), Katy Elkin (oboe), María Gomis, Adriana Alcaide (violin), Lixsania Fernández (viola da gamba), Krishnasol Jiménez (theorbo), Esteban Mazer (harpsichord))
rec. 6-9 October 2012, Iglesia de Sant Martí, Mura, Spain. DDD
No texts

One of the most popular genres of the Italian baroque was the chamber cantata, mostly scored for solo voice. As the Italian style increased its influence in France in the early decades of the 18th century this began to take root here as well. Several of the best composers of their time contributed, such as Clérambault and Campra. The subjects were mostly of a mythological nature, although they usually ended with a kind of moral. However, cantatas with a spiritual content were very rare. Only three composers wrote such cantatas: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Sébastien de Brossard and René Drouard de Bousset. It seems likely that the latter was inspired by the cantatas by the former two composers. Some of his cantatas have the same subjects as those by Jacquet de la Guerre and De Brossard. That is the case, for instance, with Judith, which has been recorded previously by Le Tendre Amour (which I reviewed here). The same subject was used for a cantata by Jacquet de la Guerre.
De Bousset is a largely unknown quantity to modern audiences. However, in his own time he was quite famous, in particular as an organ virtuoso. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725) who acted as maître de musique in several académies. As a composer he was best known for his airs sérieux et à boire. In 1731 René Drouard also published a collection of such airs. He seems to have regretted this as he later broke the plates of these pieces. That had everything to do with his development in religious matters. He became heavily involved with a religious sect, the convulsionnaires. The name derives from convulsions which they claimed to perform under divine inspiration. In particular during the reign of Louis XV they found many followers in aristocratic circles. According to the 19th-century musicologist François-Joseph Fétis De Bousset was "one of (the) most ardent convulsionnaires and most zealous partisans of their miracles".
His strong religious feelings could well explain his choice of subjects and texts for his cantatas. Two collections were printed. The first dates from 1739 and includes six cantatas. Three are settings of paraphrases from Psalms: 83 (84) and 147, both recorded here, and 121 (122). The above-mentioned cantata Judith is also in this collection. The remaining two cantatas are Le Triomphe de la Vertu (The triumph of virtue) and Le Naufrage de Pharaon (The downfall of Pharao). The subject of the latter cantata is the same as Jacquet de la Guerre used in Le passage de la mer rouge which appears at the disc I mentioned before. The exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt, under the guidance of Moses, from the book of Genesis, is treated here in a dramatic way. De Bousset's cantata begins with an instrumental prélude: the upper part is to be played by violins in unison, apparently depicting the waves of the Red Sea. The obbligato viola da gamba repeatedly plays arpeggios, expressing the fear of the people when they realise that Pharaoh with his armies is after them. It is followed by a recitative: "Quelle effroyable nuit" (What horrible night). Here and in the ensuing aria the protagonist urges the people to ask God for help who will destroy impiety. In the next recitative and aria God's intervention is described: the waters of the Red Sea are separated so that the people can pass. When the Egyptian armies come to catch them, the waters flow back and the Egyptians drown. The cantata closes with a recitative and aria singing the praise of Israel's God.
The programme closes with another cantata on a biblical subject: Abraham who is asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac. It comprises three pairs of recitatives and arias. Unfortunately it is impossible to say anything about the text and the way de Bousset treats it. This disc comes without lyrics, and the booklet omits any description of the cantatas' content. I found the first collection of six cantatas on the internet, but I couldn't find the second collection from which this cantata is taken. This is a serious shortcoming in a production like this.
The two remaining cantatas are on paraphrases from Psalms. Psalm 83 (84) is about someone longing to be close to God and his temple. It begins with a recitative which is followed by an aria with the indication très tendrement. It has an obbligato part for viola da gamba. In the second aria the protagonist asks for God's support; it is described as gravement et gai. There is much expression here, but obviously of a different character than in the two dramatic cantatas. The same goes for the paraphrase on Psalm 147 which begins with a prélude for two instruments, here performed with transverse flute and violin. Sion - a name often used in the Book of Psalms for the Jewish people - is incited to praise God as he is their help and saves them from their enemies. The first aria includes many dynamic indications: doux and fort. The following recitative says that the whole creation, including the winds and the waters, are under his command. Natural phenomena are vividly illustrated in the vocal part and the basso continuo. The last aria then again urges the people to thank God for his gifts. It is due to the depictions in the vocal and instrumental parts that this cantata has some theatrical traits.
One can only be grateful that Le Tendre Amour has brought the oeuvre of de Bousset to our attention. These cantatas are very well-written: the Psalm paraphrases are mostly lyrical and of an uplifting character, albeit with some sharp edges here and there, whereas the two other cantatas are quite dramatic. In particular the opening cantata shows impressively what a good composer can achieve with just a single voice and some instruments. I am happy to tell you that the performances are in every way outstanding. Michiko Takahashi has a very fine and clear voice, and shows her full mastery of the style of the French baroque. Her ornamentation is tasteful and her diction and pronunciation immaculate. The same goes for Bernhard Hansky who delivers a truly theatrical interpretation of Le Naufrage de Pharaon. In his recitatives he is a real storyteller, giving a vivid description of the events. The instrumentalists also contribute to these performances resulting in a compelling disc.
I should not forget to mention that the performers make use of a historical pronunciation of French, known as français restitué. I have only sporadically heard this practice, most recently in a disc by the Ludovice Ensemble. It is a worthwhile attempt to come closer to the world in which these cantatas were created.
On the basis of the quality and curiosity of the repertoire I would like to label this disc Recording of the Month. However, the omission of lyrics and translations is too serious to be ignored *.
Johan van Veen

* Le Tendre Amour has made the lyrics, with English translations, available for download at their website.