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Jean BOYER (c.1592-1648)
Chansons à boire et à danser - Airs de cour
Ratas del viejo Mundo/Floris de Rycker
rec. 2019, Augustus Muziekcentrum, Antwerp, Belgium
RAMÉE RAM1910 [53:51]

Do not be misled by the title: not all of these songs only concern drinking and dancing. Some of the texts talk of lost or unattainable love, the sort of stuff you would surely expect from the period.

The nineteen tracks are taken from four publications. Boyer’s 1st Livre d’Airs à quatre parties of 1619 supplies five songs here (one of them is Que ferai-je? Que dirai-je with love-lorn lines like “I will do my penance/In the dreadful silence”). From the 1621 collection Aires de Jean Boyer parissien, mis en tablature de luth pur lui-même come four songs, among them the beautiful Si j’aime autre que vous (“If I should love any other, let me die”). The more earthy drinking and dancing songs come from Boyer's 1636 collection of fifty-nine pieces entitled Recueil d’Airs à boire et danser and a similar title published in 1642. These are set for treble and bass voice. In the second collection, we also have chansons pour danser with courantes, sarabandes and other pieces. So where does the term Air de cour come in?

The popularity of the Air de cour began with a collection published in 1571 by the composer and royal printer Adrian Le Roy (born c.1520). Some of these pieces were recorded by Fires of Love in 2008 (Delphian DCD34063). Generally they are for solo voice and lute, as in Boyer’s 2nd Book. A good example is Beaux yeux divins, qui voyez dans mon coeur. The songs are strophic, often with a repeated chorus line. The French court of Louis XIII particularly enjoyed these pieces, and may have danced to them. Some, however, could be polyphonic. Boyer composed several, as heard here in the lovely Regoureux souvenir. But do not think that Boyer is a French Thomas Campion and Dowland. All is quite different, often more frivolous but often deeply affecting.

We know little about Jean Boyer. His contemporaries Étienne Moulinié and Antoine Boësset have been recorded a little more often, although they also composed some better known sacred works. The former composer worked for Louis XIII’s brother Duke Gaston. Boyer was better known as viola da gamba player. He was probably a Lutheran since he also published songs for the Protestant church.

This seems to be the second CD made by the group with the extraordinary name Ratas del viejo Mundo (Old-World Rats). I reviewed the first, entitled Ossesso – Italian madrigals of various sorts. They bring this music to life with absolute clarity of expression, and have produced a recording of sheer delight. The group consists of eight musicians. The instruments include a baroque harp, guitar and a gut-stringed harpsichord. The voices are well contrasted. I especially like the effortless soprano of Michaela Riener with her ideal tone quality. Interesting for a different reason is the more earthy alto of Setkin Baptist, heard at her best in Beaux yeux divins. There is also a rounded vocal contribution of bass Tomas Maxé.

As an example of the group’s approach to this music, let us take the first track Absent de vos beaux yeux, with four strophes. It begins with an instrumental introduction and the first verse as a solo for male voice. Verse 2 is sung by the two female voices. The next instrumental interlude is for harp and theorbo. Verse 3 is for the women again. After a brief instrumental interlude, the male voice returns for verse 4. All this adds variety and colour. Another example is Que ferai-je? Que dirai-je. It is performed by four voices with instrumental support and colour but with an instrumental section inserted for the viol and harp before verse 3. The last verse is reserved, movingly, for the soprano only with harpsichord. You get the idea. There are also pieces for instruments alone, including the descriptive Filandre à rouy mon coeur.

This is certainly niche repertoire but it is all beautifully presented with a well-translated booklet, photos and a detailed essay (by Marc Vanscheeuwijck). The booklet is tucked into a flap in the cardboard casing. The performances, closely and clearly recorded, are sensitive and, mostly, capture the character of each song.

Gary Higginson
Absent de vos beaux yeux [2:27]
Filandre à rauy mon coeur [3:41]
Que ferai-je? Que dirai-je?[4:52]
Je suis a present à moi [3:37]
Courante [2:04]
Compère, fa’i trouvé du vin [2:01]
Rigoureux souvenir d’une joie passée [2:40]
Donne-moi ton pucelage [1:43]
D’ou vient que ces beaux yeux [2:32]
Que faisais-tu, gros garçon [2:12]
Sarabande [2:16]
Si j’aime autre que vous [2:20]
Sombres forêts, noirs vallées [5:15]
Quoi faut-il qu’une même flame? [2:28]
N’avez-vus point d’autre discours [1:43]
Quand je tiens ma chère bouteille [2:51]
Beau, voyant votre douceur [2:53]
Beaux yeux divins [2:17]
Je veux plutôt vivre pour te server [3:46]

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