FRANCE 1789: Revolution in Music from Sans-Culottes and Royalists • Les Lunaisiens • ALPHA 810 (61:23 Text and Translation)
Concept albums always run the risk of becoming shelves that get buried under a ton of irrelevant musical material—but not here. The subject is simple: vocal music composed to propagandize for either side in the French Revolution. The variety is impressive. From a musical standpoint, we get folk dances, opéra comique tunes, popularRead more romances, homophonic choruses, and, just occasionally, new material. The texts reflect appeals to sentiment, to universal humanity, or to Nature. We’re told of the fall of the Bastille, asked to applaud/condemn the capture of Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette, and hear a lament written to gain sympathy for the king interpolated, verse for verse, with a sarcastic parody. Gossec is represented by a Hymne à l’ tre supreme, while Le Menuet d’Exaudet furnishes the melody for a rollicking bit of nonsensical satire seemingly aimed at the buzzwords of the day. The Marseillaise is answered by the contrafactum of the Contre Marseillaise.
In this recording, the latter two selections are performed as one, trading their first verses back and forth, bass and tenor soloists, after which both join in as further verses alternate. Its palpable sense of theatricality, both in declamation and singing, is typical of the whole album—no ultra-refined audio equivalent of an academic paper, this. Nor would a restrained response be appropriate in passionate music meant to support such causes. There is no discussion offered of the arrangements used, though it’s difficult to escape the conviction that they are at least in certain respects modern—the way the musical textures completely change in a sophisticated fashion between verse and parody in the Complainte de Louis XVI aux Française et Parodie de la complainte, for instance. However, the instrumentation mirrors contemporary French taste as we know it: flageolet, bassoon, serpent (bass cornett), harpsichord, percussion, violin, and piano organ (two manuals for piano and organ, primarily used in popular concerts and gatherings). So whoever did the arrangements clearly had an eye and ear to period practice.
Les Lunaisiens performs with enthusiasm and technical expertise in music that’s more about style than virtuosity. There are a couple of selections where dark baritone Arnaud Marzorati wobbles on held notes (the Complainte is one), but otherwise, the singing is free from blemish. Jean-François Novelli’s sweet tenor is especially appreciated, and like Marzorati, he makes the most dramatically of the various expressive faces the words ask him to assume. With strong liner notes, English translations, good forward miking, and effective balance, this is definitely a fun release, as well as one that shines a light on aspects of popular French musical culture that seldom get heard.