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Fanfare Magazine: 35:4 (03-04 / 2012) 
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Code-barres / Barcode : 3760127221258

Reviewer: Bertil van Boer


Apart from major figures such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Michel-Richard de Lalande, the Couperins, or André Campra, music from the time of Louis XIV is somewhat less studied. To be sure, Masterpiece Theatre folks will have heard of Jean Jacques Mouret, and the Sieur de Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais have their following among instrumentalists, but those who delved into the realm of vocal music remain less well studied or performed. Such is Sébastien de Brossard (1655–1730), who spent his career outside of Paris in the provincial cities of Strasbourg and Meaux. He is known as the author of the first dictionary of music, which gave him a certain amount of fame among French intellectuals, but his own compositions, including whole volumes of drinking songs, remained relatively local, despite being printed in lavish editions Brossard himself financed. Even during his lifetime, the composer was aware that his theoretical work left his music in the dust, and so about 1725 he took his collection of complete works and donated it to the Royal Library in Paris. There, of course, they have lain for centuries ironically gathering the dust that Brossard wished to avoid when making the donation in the first place.

This recording of two oratorios (both in Latin), a secular cantata, and a trio sonata as filler, represents the latest in a miniature Brossard revival begun a bit more than a decade ago with the sacred songs on Opus 111 followed by the Petites Motets on Auvidis in 1998. The Leçons de morts performed by Seminario Musicale on Veritas in 2005 and the Grands Motets on Laborie with the Limoges Baroque Ensemble give a fair sampling of his work, and this makes a nice complement. That is not to say that any of these pieces are in any way revolutionary. The two Latin oratorios, one on the immaculate conception and the other a brief dialogue of a penitent soul with God, conform to the sort of works popularized by composers such as Giacomo Carissimi a generation earlier, as does the Italian cantata. The trio sonata seems unique in its order of movements, each of which goes through several tempo changes, from an opening fanfare figure to one with a nice imitative counterpoint. All are relatively short, with the oratorios taking about 15 to 20 minutes. One of the things that strikes me is Brossard’s nice sense of ensemble, with the strings often performing ritornellos against the voices and the vocal lines used generally as duets and trios. His harmonies sometimes veer in odd directions, and he has a nice sense of rhythm that seems on one hand to be derived from the dance but on the other to have become so stylized that its origins can be less obvious. For example, in the overture to the first oratorio, the strings play a stately introduction that I would swear is like a galliard of the late Renaissance. In the “Infernal Symphony,” right before Adam and two others complain of their misery (which the conception will eliminate), there are sudden shifts that seem modal rather than diatonic, and when the dotted rhythms are added, it seems like a strange paraphrase of Lully. The vocal lines are mostly short, with little real ornamentation or fioritura, blending rather nicely with the accompaniment. Even in the continuo arias, such as “Exaudi” of the first oratorio, the voice and continuo are mostly in parallel, rather than one using the other in counterpoint. There are few Handelian walking basses, and no Vivaldian virtuosity. The works, however, shift harmony and mood frequently, now sounding anachronistic, now modern, demonstrating that Brossard was embarked upon his own musical journey.

As for the performances themselves, they are excellent. La Rêveuse is an ensemble that combines voices and instruments in a single body. Although the characters of the oratorios are delineated in the fine booklet notes, the ensemble makes them seem more integrated than solo, in turn making these works ensemble pieces rather than the usual oratorio or cantata individuals. The sound of the recording is intimate, with good balance and mixture. This is one late Baroque disc that collectors will probably want to have. Highly recommended.

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