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Brunettes ALPHA761
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Vous avez dit Brunettes?
Les Kapsber'girls
rec. 2020, Moosestudio, Evje, Norway
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
ALPHA 761 [63:05]

In recordings of French baroque music one may encounter pieces called brunettes, either as songs or as instrumental pieces. The latter are arrangements of the original vocal versions, which are part of a genre that was very popular at the time. The word brunette has its origin in the refrain of a song by an unknown composer, which Christophe Ballard included in a collection of songs he printed in 1703.

The brunette was a special kind of song that was part of a larger genre of airs sérieux, which in the second half of the 17th century replaced the air de cour. The latter had its origins in the late 16th century, when such songs were polyphonic. In the first half of the 17th century, a number of these songs were arranged for solo voice and lute. As the name suggests, they were sung at the court (and with time also among the highest echelons of society). Due to its increasing popularity, the form of the solo song disseminated among lower ranks and turned to songs which were divided into two categories: airs sérieux and airs à boire (drinking songs).

"The Brunettes carry us off into a rural, bucolic world in which Shepherdesses, sometimes mythological, sometimes earthlings, are frolicking about with gay abandon. Their long-lasting success speaks to the taste of the upper classes for this mythical, pastoral world of which L'Astrée (published from 1607 to 1627), a pastoral saga by Honoré Durfé that exercised incontrovertible influence on both literature and the consequent music, was certainly the precursor", Albane Imbs states in the liner-notes. This is very similar to the nature of the Italian chamber cantata, whose texts reflect the same Arcadian atmosphere, that was the ideal of the upper classes in Italy.

However, not all brunettes were about Arcadian characters. There are also songs about earthly shepherds, "throughly real, flesh-and-blood villagers". Albane Imbs points out that they express the dichotomy which was a feature of the time. "On the one hand, the aristocracy could modestly and without danger embody an idealised character, another self, without identifying with it". Here we see another parallel with Italy, where the members of the academies adopted a fancy name. On the other hand, the down-to-earth characters offered an opportunity to break away with the strict social codes, which don't allow for the expression of human emotions. People may feel the need to "dress up as a humble Shepherd, a simple villager, to whom the freedom is granted - and secretly envied - to give himself over wholeheartedly to his affections".

Both kinds of songs are included here. Les Kapsber'girls seem to want to emphasize the down-to-earth character of some songs by a kind of folksy singing, which I don't find very convincing. It seems unlikely this kind of songs were sung by 'common' people. I had rather preferred them to adopt a historical pronunciation; hearing these songs in modern French is rather odd. That is not the only issue: there is some soundscape, such as the bleating of sheep. I don't like that and I can't see what it adds to the musical programme.

Setting these considerations apart, this is definitely an interesting disc, as it focuses on an important musical genre that is seldom performed, except as snippets in anthologies. It deserves the attention it receives here. As the track-list shows, among the composers are several that are hardly known; unfortunately the booklet does not include any biographical information. The disc closes with the most famous of them all: Jean-Philippe Rameau, who used the text of one line - "With wine let us go to sleep" - for a canon. It is preceded by a piece from the 17th century: Michel Lambert was one of the main composers of airs de cour, and his song Rochers, vous êtes sourds, taken from a collection of 1666, attests to the quality of the 17th century air de cour, which is vastly superior to the early 18th-century brunette. It is the highlight of this disc, and receives an excellent performance.

Overall, the singing and playing is very good. It is just that I find a few aspects of this production not entirely convincing and satisfying.

Johan van Veen

Colin disoit à sa bergère [0:41]
Sur cette charmante rive [1:44]
Je ne veux plus aimer rien [1:30]
René Drouard DU BOUSSET (1703-1760)
Dans ce beau vallon [1:19]
Jean-Marie LE CLERC (1697-1764)
Amis, laissons l'amour, saisissons la bouteille [1:40]
Où estes vous allé, mes belles [amourettes] [2:43]
Giuseppe SAGGIONE (fl 1688-1733)
Si je fais l'amour [1:56]
Julie PINEL (1710-1737)
Boccages frais [2:44]
Elisabeth JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729)
Les rossignols, dès que le jour commence [3:38]
Jean-Baptiste DUPUITS (1720?-1769?)
La Dupuits, sarabande [2:56]
J'avois crû qu'en vous [aymant] [3:05]
Nicolas LENDORMY (c1760)
La Desmé, rondeau [2:29]
Jacques NAUDÉ (?-1765)
En vérité sévère Margoton [1:26]
Non non je n'iray [1:30]
Jacques NAUDÉ
Aimables rossignols [2:13]
Vous qui sçavez si bien [plaire] [2:56]
Le beau berger Tircis [3:40]
Nicolas HOTMAN (c1610-1663)
Chaconne [2:17]
Nicolas va voir Jeanne [1:44]
Robert DE VISÉE (c1650/55-c1732) (attr)
La Villanelle [2:36]
Pourquoy le berger qui m'engage [2:25]
Quand je veux boire avec ma maitresse [2:34]
Je vous dis que je vous aime [3:49]
Contredanse [2:31]
Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696)
Rochers, vous êtes sourds [4:33]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Avec du vin [1:14]

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