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Nuits Occitanes - Troubadour Songs
MARCABRU (c.1100-1150)
Lo vers comens [6.11]
Raimon JORDAN (c.1178-1195)
Lo clar temps vei brunezir [7.49]
Bertran de BORN (c.1140-1205)
Rassa tan cries [10.03]
Beatriz (Contessa) de DIA (c.1140- after 1175)
A Chantar m’er [9.20]
CADENET ( c.1160-1253)
S’anc fui ni prezada [7.52]
Guiraut de BORNELH (c.1138-1215)
Reis glorios [8.52]
Bernat de VENTADORN ( c.1125-c1200)
Con lerba fresch [9.02]
Raimon de MIRAVEL (c.1140-1220)
Cel que no volh auzir chansons [5:03]
Berenguier de PALAZOL (c.1160-1209)
Tan m’abelis [5.26]
Ensemble Céladon/Paulin Bündgen
rec. August 2013, Church of Notre-Dame, Centilles
RICERCAR RIC340 [68.13]

The Ensemble Céladon have chosen nine of the most significant songs from the period beginning in the early part of the twelfth century into the early thirteenth. A look at the names of the composers will remind the listener that they are each not only melody writers but also, more importantly, poets.

This ensemble has recorded just love poems and divided them into three sections: 1. ‘Before Nightfall’, represented by the first three, 2. ‘During the Night’, the next two, and 3. ‘After the Night’, the remaining four songs.

Let's take each section and composer in turn. Marcabru, who worked for some time in Poitiers for Count Guilhem VIII is the earliest. He has forty-four poems to his name but just four with melodies. This song, Lo vers comens, tells us of the perfect virtues of his lady.

Raimon Jordan came from near Toulouse. Thirteen poems exist and just two with melodies. In his song he tells us how he is looking forward to seeing his lady who lives behind a castle wall.

Bertran de Born, a member of the nobility whose thirty-nine poems often refer to military and political life, but only one has music. In this song the sight of his mistress’s beauty blinds all men and can make them jealous.

The second section begins with Beatriz de Dia who was a trobaritz and a rather mysterious figure. She was not happily married and so took a lover as mentioned in her poem, whose name was Raimbaut d’Aurenger. This is the only poem that has a melody out of five extant pieces. She tells us that she suffers when she cannot see her lover.

Cadenet’s family owned a castle near Toulouse, twenty-four poems exist but only this one has music. The text is divided between the lovers, who do not (like Romeo and Juliet) want the night to end. Only the lady speaks however and the watchman who will tell them when the dawn rises. This is a genre of song called an ‘alba’ or dawn song.

The third section opens with the famous Guiraut de Bornelh’s Reis glorios in which the poet’s companion has been lost since nightfall and now a “star rises in the east”.

Bernat de Ventadorn probably the best known of the composers here was a native of Orange. Thirty-nine poems or ‘cansos’ survive, eighteen with music. In his Can l’erba fresch we hear how happy the poet is in the glorious Spring morning, full of beautiful flowers.

Raimon de Miravel came from near Carcassonne. Forty-four of his poems survive and twenty-two have melodies. His song tells us that that he hopes to please his lady with his song and then hopes to sleep with her.

Finally we have the little-known Berenguier de Palazol (also known as Palol) was from Catalonia. Twelve ‘cansos’ survive him, eight with melodies. His song tell us of his “joy and love”… knowing that his “lady holds the key” to his delight.

You will notice that these composers come from Catalonia and Provence, mainly, the area of the Occitan language - the ‘Langue d’oc’. How much they were primarily musicians can’t really be established. One Raimon Vidal wrote a treatise in about 1210 entitled ‘Las Razas de trobar’ in which it is noticeable that the poems cited are generally those for which a melody survives. Poetic structure is significant and highlighted in the excellent booklet essay by the group’s director.

So what is the approach of the Ensemble Céladon? It’s worth reminding oneself that the manuscripts only supply us with a melody. There are no indications of possible polyphony — which are often improvised — and none of rhythm. The whole interpretation is down to the performers.

I must say that I have enjoyed enormously the singing and instrumental work and the song S’anc fui bela ni prezada by Cadenet sums up their method. I was more moved by this performance than ever before even the recording by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX on Virgin (now as a box set 50999 648801 2) which is over-elaborate both in the ornamentation of the vocal part and in the instrumental backing. Ensemble Céladon begins with a chiming bell (midnight?) and when the watchman sings a fiddle is added. More instruments are gradually introduced as the verses proceed. Throughout, the lovely melody is presented simply and beautifully by both singers, and the words dictate the expressive qualities. In case you think that this sounds all rather understated then you are probably quite right and that is what I have especially enjoyed.

Taking another example: the well known ‘alba’ Reis glorios by Bornelh opens with a solo, lonely recorder, then soprano Clara Coutouly sings the first three verses in the usual (now-a-days) free rubato style. She is accompanied gently by a drone and lute but after verse three the full ensemble with percussion begin the melody as a dance in triple time. After a minute or so three more verses are sung with some ornamentation in triple rhythm before everything stops. In free rhythm counter-tenor Pauli Bündgen sings the last verse. This is even more effective as the song appears, although composed by a man, to be a plea by a lady for her male lover to wake and depart before dawn. The last verse therefore becomes his response to her calls. Hence the performance fits the poem perfectly, creating a definite structure with the simple melody always well defined and the instrumentation discreet, thought-provoking and effective. As is the case with the Cadenet, the last word ‘alba’ is suitably sung by both voices. Similarly in I Rassa tan cries by de Born the vocal melody is transformed sometimes into an instrumental interlude with a dance rhythm.

I very much appreciate the way in which the singers do not scoop around between the notes for ultra-expressive purposes. An example of this practice can be found, for instance, in the recordings by Carole Matras of ‘Millenarium’: ‘Douce Amie Trouvère - Songs and Minstrel dances’ now in a box set (Ricercar RIC 328). This is done in Matras's efforts at chromatically altering pitches which is generally considered an authentic approach.

There is evidence to show that the troubadours regarded their songs, text and melody as a cohesive whole. So what do we do when a melody does not survive to a poem? Well the answer is, find one from another source which somehow fits. We have an example in Lo vers comens by Marcabru, the melody being a contemporary adaptation from a trope written in manuscript associated with the St. Martial School of Limoges of the same period.

As you listen through this CD you might wonder if all of the songs will be slow, expressive and free in rhythm but the charming Can l’herba fresche by Ventadorn is given a lively compound rhythm. The same applies to the memorable Cel que no volh auzir chansons by Miravel and also Tan m’abelis which brings the CD to a lively conclusion.

My only disappointment with the booklet, which anyway comes to forty-two pages, is that the text is given as a title only in the original language and is then translated into just French and English. To follow the original you must go to www.outhere-music.com

Even so this disc is highly attractive and most beautifully recorded.

Gary Higginson