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Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Cantates Françaises
Apollon (1716) [19:52]
Le jaloux (1710) [14:53]
L’amour guéri par l’amour (1720) [18:31]
Pyrâme et Tisbé (1713) [18:50]
Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor)
A Nocte Temporis (Anna Besson (flute), Emmanuel Resche (violin), Myriam Rignol (viola da gamba) & Benjamin Alard (harpsichord))
Notes in French, English, and German, with full French texts and English translations
rec. 2017, Sint-Truiden, Belgium
ALPHA CLASSICS 356 [72:23]

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault was a prominent figure in the French school of composers for the organ and harpsichord, but perhaps his greatest legacy to posterity was to develop the form of the French cantata. In five books of such compositions, published between 1710 and 1726, and five other miscellaneous examples, his achievement paralleled in smaller scale the operas of Lully and Rameau in setting the French language to correspondingly idiomatic music.

A selection of those cantatas from four separate books are presented here – although originally scored for soprano or haute-contre, they are transposed to the usual tenor range, and Reinoud Van Mechelen has an ideal voice for them. These mini-dramas (usually drawn from mythological stories) constitute intimate music-making, and so do not call for the histrionics of opera in their realisation. Like much French music of its time – whether instrumental or vocal – Clérambault’s style is essentially elegant and charming, even in the last cantata here, relating the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbé from Ovid, which laments the cruelty of love in an episode that echoes the story of Romeo and Juliet. Van Mechelen brings off this programme attractively with the clear, lyrical projection of his singing, by turns incisive and plaintive. Despite eschewing vibrato, the bloom of his tone is sufficient to sustain interest in both the slow moving melody of Doux repos in Apollon, and through the economy of means and expression employed by Clérambault in the more internalised reflections of L’amour guéri par l’amour, where Thyrsis’s love for Clymene is spurned, but he then espies another beauty, which happily drives out the memory of his tormented feelings.

Van Mechelen demonstrates sympathetic, nuanced phrasing of the music in line with the words, even in the recitatives, but he retains control, too, on the occasions that the music breaks out into a more florid, Italianate melisma, as in the first two Airs of Le jaloux, or when the emotion of the moment demands more impassioned declamation, as in the opening section of Pyrâme et Tisbé. The four members of A Nocte Temporis match Van Mechelen in sensitivity towards the music, for example in the way that Anna Besson and Emmanuel Resche combine flute and violin as though one voice in the unison melody of Apollon’s opening Simphonie, or their haunting, slow chromatic entries at the outset of L’amour guéri par l’amour. Benjamin Alard and Myriam Rignol provide astute, discreet accompaniment as the continuo throughout these performances.

A handful of Clérambault’s cantatas have been recorded before, notably Orphée in a couple of instances, but this disc is a welcome and exemplary introduction to this composer’s output, which will also extend the knowledge and appreciation of those already acquainted with it.

Curtis Rogers

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