The importance of this recording-as a survey of a little-known though highly influential seventeenth-century genre-was noted when the records were first reviewed here. What wasn't mentioned was the absence of three of the airs de cour listed on the record label and jacket: Bataille's Ma bergere non legere (included on the CD, however), Huygens's Vous me l'aviez bien dit and Lully's Ingratte bergere. On the CD box, the name of Wieland Kuijken has been compressed with that of Mihoko Kimura to become 'Wieland Kimura, violinist'; in spite of no mention of a viol player per se Kuijken can be clearly heard in Nos. 16 and 18 (his breathing too).
The virtuosity of Rene Jacobs is not in dispute. The beauty of his voice, the elegance, agility and sense of timing he brings to bear upon the music is unequalled in our day. A single note-the last of Boesset's Plaignez la rigeur de mon sort, embellished with the most delicate, spine-tingling vibrato-is evidence enough. Michel Lambert, whose Sombres deserts is, for me, the most beautiful air in the collection, was considered the finest singer of his day; Jacobs's brilliantly improvised doubles would surely have won his approbation.
The CD, vastly superior in fidelity to the records, contains only 19 of the 32 works listed on the records. The buyer is thus placed in a dilemma: the immediacy of the CD ravishes the ear, but the opportunity to hear more of the airs of Lambert and the moving Que ferons-nous? of Constant9n Huygens make it difficult to resist the record. There is a further argument for acquiring both.
-Julie Anne Sadie.
========= from the cover ==========
Michel Lambert is one of the dominant figures of seventeenth-century French vocal music. His contemporaries were not mistaken in regarding him almost as highly as they did Lully and the testimonies of Tallemant des Reaux, La Fontaine, La Bruyere, Scarron, Mademoiselle de Scudery and many others have left us the picture of a vital and engaging personality. Lambert combined the talents of a singer, a dancer, a teacher and, above all, a composer. In his youth he attracted the attention of Etienne Moulinie, the Master of Music of Gaston d'Orleans, the brother of Louis XIII, and he joined the chapel maintained by this prince who gave him and his sister-in-law, the great singer, Hilaire Dupuis, a pension until 1653. He then entered the service of the young King Louis XIV who rewarded his zeal with the post of Master of the Music of the Chamber in 1660. In his official functions he assisted his son-in-law, Lully, as master of works for the court spectacles, taking charge of rehearsals, training young singers and collaborating in the composition of certain large-scale ballets.
A singer and theorbo player himself, Lambert devoted himself exclusively to vocal music and especially to the air. Most of his output appeared in two collections published in 1660 and 1689 respectively and in a manuscript collection distributed by the bookseller Foucault at the end of the 17th century. But numerous airs were scattered among various printed and manuscript volumes of the period. Over three hundred pieces have been counted. Although Lambert confessed himself incapable of writing motets (he meant motets in several parts), he enriched the repertory of seventeenth-century French church music with two cycles of lecons de tenebres and a Miserere. A pupil of Pierre de Nyert, that gentleman in the entourage of Louis XIII who went to Rome in 1633 in search of the material with which to renew French singing, Lambert appeared on the scene at the peak of the development of the solo air, before it became an integral part of dramatic music and the French opera. During the first decades of the seventeenth century, thanks to Pierre Guedron and Antoine Boesset, the melodic line slowly disengaged itself from the constraints imposed on it by the demands of part-writing. But these two composers still thought in terms of an underlying polyphonic structure. On the other hand, Lambert, who is known to have been a singer who accompanied himself, gives the impression of having spontaneously conceived an independent melodic line resting on a harmonic support. This freedom defines itself in concrete terms by large phrases and intervals aimed at creating an atmosphere that is at times dramatic, by a forward moving design which avoids all repetition and by the richness of the ornamentation.
The choice of words set to music by Lambert reflects both his personal tastes as well as those of the society he was writing for, the society of the salons which were the nurseries of 'precious' verse. He made no concessions to the air a boire as the majority of his colleagues were doing but devoted himself solely to the 'serious' air. The list of the poets whose words he set is distinguished by its length - there are sixty-one names -as well as by the quality of those names. Whether the words were by celebrated poets like La Fontaine, Benserade or Quinault, or from the pens of more obscure poets like Perrin or Bouchardeau, Lambert chose them with discriminating taste from among an extremely abundant production popularised by published editions. The subjects of these airs are, essentially, love and death. The composer allows himself to be guided by the rhythms and accents of this free verse which was designed to be set to music.
Expressive symbolism was foreign to Lambert's musical language: there are no 'madrigalisms' on this or that particular word, but rather a bearing in mind of the whole poem and its meaning resulting in a musical translation of the leading idea. In the Book of 1660 he gives proof of an innovative mind by scoring a song accompanied by a figured bass and by adding to each air a double on the second stanza of the poem. This melismatic variation demanded from the composer not only a thorough mastery of the art of ornamentation but also the ability to remain faithful to the connotation of the text and its rhythm without committing errors of taste. Benigne de Bacilly, who took numerous examples from Lambert to illustrate his Art de bien chanter (1668), confirms that he was considered as one of the rare musicians capable of a perfect mastery of the difficulties of this technique of composition.
The presence of fifty doubles also constitutes the interest of the Foucault collection written for a solo voice with continuo. This copy, made for 'commercial' use, and of which five copies still exist, was probably distributed at the end of the seventeenth century, either before or after Lambert's death.
The Book of 1689 is of quite a different nature. Here Lambert presents us with a veritable anthology of his output by bringing together sixty texts chosen for their contrasting character. Each one of the airs is preceded by a ritornello for two violins and continuo which, in most cases, announces the vocal part. The number of parts varies from one to five with great subtleties of vocal colour due to the combinations of tessitura. Serious texts are contrasted with lighter poems in a pastoral vein: Le printemps and songs about shepherds and shepherdesses, sometimes in a dancing rhythm, prefigure the eighteenth century. Lambert makes use of a wide range of musical devices and is as consummate a master of homophonic writing - does one detect the influence of his son-in-law Lully here? - as he is of imitation 'a la francaise' which permits him to enlarge the dimension of certain airs. The airs for single voice in this collection, often conceived as mournful meditations, are cast in one of the rigid forms like the chaconne (Vos mepris chaque jour). These recits are among the most beautiful that the seventeenth century has left us.
Alongside Lully, Lambert also became interested in the difficulties presented by dramatic music. The four great dialogues he wrote for the Ballet des Arts, the Ballets des Amours deguises and the Ballet de la naissance de Venus show that Lully found in him an example and a model.