These pieces are like miniaturized operatic episodes, capable of conveying considerable emotional power, and Lesne's distinctively rich singing is a constant pleasure.
Having heard and enjoyed Gerard Lesne and his group in so many Italian cantatas in recent years, it is a special pleasure to hear him turning to the genre's French counterpart. A fascinating and still largely untapped corner of the repertoire, the cantate francaise was a popular form of home music-making in the early years of the eighteenth century, offering amateurs a chance, as the lexicographer Brossard put it, 'to soften the sorrows of solitude, without all the trouble expense and paraphernalia of an opera.' The reference to opera is significant,Read more because these pieces - usually about a quarter-of-an-hour in length - really are like miniaturized operatic episodes, serving up a variety of moods and, in the best cases, capable of conveying considerable emotional power.
The best works in this selection are Aminte et Lucrine by the French cantata's most prolific exponent, Nicolas Bernier, and Pirame et Tisbé by perhaps its most skilled master, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault. Hearing the impressively sonorous pronouncements of the Oracle of Diana in the former, or the roaring of the (continuo) lion in the hatter, you begin to wonder why these two did not compose any operas themselves, unless it be that they were justifiably quite happy with what they had already achieved here. All the works on the disc, however, have something to offer both dramatically and lyrically, and the lack of familiarity of the composers' names should not be allowed to put anyone off.
Lesne's singing is once again a constant pleasure. His distinctively rich and manly alto voice is a reliable and even-toned instrument, while his musical intelligence and excellent projection of words is insurance against the slightest hint of blandness. As usual I find his continuo group a little heavy-handed in places, though it is good to hear them being unafraid to enter into the dramatic spirit. A most rewarding release.