Bouillabaisse: French Cantatas & Chansons
There’s nothing icthyological, or even marine, about the contents, so the title ‘Bouillabaisse’ is a puzzle; the name of the group is taken from ‘French opera pitch’. Although the disc might seem short measure at a little over 45 minutes, Ensemble 392 offer a pleasantly varied programme that can be enjoyed at a sitting. The main work is Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Semélé, probably published around 1715. The narrator sets the scene – Semele, though warned by Cupid, wishes to see Jupiter in all his glory – and wraps up the story with a moral. In between, Semele complains to Cupid, after which Jupiter’s thunderbolt leads to her being burnt to death. An excellent opportunity for imaginative musical illustration, but Jacquet de la Guerre muffs it. Jupiter’s arrival is marked by a dainty gavotte, and the music for the fire that consumes the unfortunate princess is decorous indeed; fortunately, Marie-Sophie Pollak’s bright soprano, the bite of Julia Stocker’s flute and the strumming of Johannes Ötzbrugger’s theorbo combine to give it a decent amount of welly.
The anonymous text of Rameau’s Cantate pour le jour de St Louis was surely aimed at the reigning monarch (Louis XV) as well as the saint (Louis IX). A brief, syncopated prelude introduces the opening recitative, after which the singer launches on a da capo air that begins ‘Let all unite in doing honour to one to whom my heart owes its blessings’. The flute (substituting, reasonably enough, for the violin) then twitters delightfully as the birds are invited to join in.
The other vocal items are simple chansons, delivered simply. The gentle melancholy of ‘La fille au roi Louis’ has a counterpart in the middle movement of the sonata from Michel Blavet’s Op 3 set. This, the most substantial of the disc’s three instrumental pieces, is given a fine performance by Julia Stocker and the fourth member of the ensemble, harpsichordist Tizian Naef. The latter’s article in the booklet is translated; the texts are not. Another puzzle is the booklet’s cover: three American sisters from the 1920s, perched on a toy car. But this is civilised, undemanding music, expertly performed.