Notes and Editorial Reviews
: No. 5,
“La Femme est un grand embarrass”
; No. 24,
“La Marched u Huron.”
La Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève du Mont de Paris.
La Matrone d’Ephèse.
Dominique Visse (ct);
ALPHA 151 (66:10
Text and Translation)
Sprightly and stylish as the playing of Michel Corrette’s
No. 5 is on this album, I think Café Zimmermann missed a real ear-opener by not beginning with Pierre de La Garde’s
. At least as heard here, this cantata begins with the ensemble of seven instrumentalists in genial chaos, before being called to order by a composer leading his own music. Far from being a “sonata,” the work the anonymous composer directs is a series of operatic images painted by his instrumental music: the gloomy lament of an Orpheus or Psyche, a pastorale with its shepherds, a sarabande fit for a grave dance by the Muses, finishing with a thunderstorm. The humor derives from the utter derivativeness of his musico-theatrical gestures, and the enormous self-satisfaction he takes from it all. Anybody who enjoys French Baroque opera should derive much pleasure from this.
La Matrône d’Ephese
is another one-person musical sketch, with the added challenge of the performer taking on five parts in a grimly comic tale of a guard who makes love to a widow, losing track of the corpse he was supposed to guard—that of her thieving husband. Nicolas Racot de Grandval appeared as music was increasingly less of a privileged, court-based domain in France. The son of actors, he gave up that profession to become a successful playwright, harpsichordist, and organist, who wrote many comedies for the Théâtre Français. Although called a cantata, this piece can also be viewed as an
with music derived from popular vaudevilles of the day. More than 20 theatrical airs and noëls were expertly spun into its fabric. It’s a mark of Grandval’s talent that it works so well.
With Philippe Courbois, we return to musicians serving the nobility—and not just any of the nobility, but a princess of the Conde. He was part of the artistic circle of Anne Louise Bénédicte, the Duchess du Maine, which she developed to escape the prudish de Maintenon years of Louis XIV’s court. The liner notes state that
ignores Cervantes’ “reflections on the relationships between make-believe and reality,” but I wonder whether Courbois hasn’t in fact achieved a brilliant transformation of this by setting sublimely expressive music—hence, serious and heartfelt, according to the convention—for his mad knight against a text filled with starchy archaisms, and senseless ravings drawn from the popular fantastical romances of his day. Thus the hero is both real and as false as the literature that fills his mind. Within the limitations of a cantata less than 16 minutes long, Courbois is extremely ambitious. His airs are preceded by lengthy ritornelli, and filled with lyrical decoration and imitation within the accompaniment. He sets his text sensitively, reacting to shifts of meaning, and employing dissonance for dramatic effect. Memorably, too: The heroic air “Vous qui travaillez” in particular sticks in the mind, especially in a performance as theatrically aware as that of Dominique Visse.
He certainly has the voice, the manner, and the stylistic understanding to make a success of this kind of album. Unlike many (but not all) other countertenors, he easily varies the basic color of his voice, and unlike so many Baroque specialists, he has no problem carrying the drama he evinces in recitatives over into airs. Each of the characters he creates comes vividly to life: the impatient, conceited composer; the delusional knight; the weeping but all too easily comforted widow, etc. He’s not a generalist, but works at the word level to create expressive meaning: the dead voice the widow employs at “sur le ravage” to halt her late thieving husband’s descent into the realm of the dead, for example, or the gruff, very different tenor timbre of the soldier’s “Dites la jeune Dame.” Visse reminds me in some respects of the legendary Soviet tenor Ivan Kozlovsky in the depth of interpretation he brings to each part—and as with Kozlovsky, there have been times in previous recordings when he seems to shape each word to the detriment of the line as a whole. But in theatrical, fast-moving material like this there is less opportunity for the laser approach to develop, and he is ably supported by the small but rhythmically alert Café Zimmermann in these engaging performances. The group also offers nuanced and virtuosic readings of the popular
, and a pair of Corrette’s
In short, appealing performances in works that really require the kind of abilities Visse possesses in spades. Top marks all around.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
La sonate by Pierre de la Garde
Dominique Visse (Countertenor)
Cantates françoises: Dom Quichotte by Philippe Courbois
Dominique Visse (Countertenor)
Written: by 1710; France
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