CLÉRAMBAULT Cantates françaises
If you’re unsure whether to listen to a whole French Baroque opera, try the cantata repertoire first. Considered the finest early 18th-century composer of these operatic miniatures, the Paris organist Nicolas Clérambault published 25, of which four are superbly interpreted here by the compelling Belgian tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen and ensemble A Nocte Temporis in their second recording in as many years.
Van Mechelen carefully chose the repertoire, not merely for the most suitable vocal writing but also to illustrate some of Clérambault’s preoccupations: honouring the late, great monarch Louis XIV, illustrating in music the complexity of the emotions around jealousy and love, and encapsulating tragedy in miniature through mythic characters, in this case Pyramus and Thisbe.
From the opening track, the musicians perform with confidence, palpable rapport and style. Their keen attention to the detail and emotional nuances of the text and music results in a succession of arresting moments: from his entry in Apollon (track 2), Van Mechelen thrills by imitating the fluttering of birds’ wings; in the first air (track 3), the instrumental prelude and interludes for flute and continuo conclude with a petite reprise in which the bass viol, played by Myriam Rignol, assumes the chordal role of the harpsichord to provide a more delicate accompaniment in keeping with the theme of doux répos; in the succeeding track the violinist Emmanuel Resche terrifies us with Clérambault’s evocation of lightning.
Van Mechelen’s emotional intelligence and vocal control are impressive. He seems to inhabit Le jaloux and L’Amour, guéri par l’amour, using his voice to draw a rich seam of light and shade from them. Among the highlights are the troubled récitatif in track 11, the passionate air in track 16 and the compelling récitatif in track 19. The instrumental playing here, as elsewhere, is expertly executed and perfectly balances the voice.
By the time you’ve listened to their Pyrame et Thisbé you’ll be ready to tackle a tragédie-lyrique. Unfortunately, Clérambault didn’t compose one.