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GRAMOPHONE (Awards/2022)
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Reviewer :
Edward Breen

Settings of Joachim Du Bellay’s poetry, interspersed with recitations by the ‘slam’ poet Kwal and accompanied by instrumental improvisations, make for an atmospheric and immersive experience. Du Bellay may not have been much set to music but nevertheless the roll call includes Gombert, Lassus and, of course, Arcadelt. The whole programme, varied in emotion and texture, begins with Camille Fritsch’s light, fresh soprano in Didier Le Blanc’s

Qui prestera la parole, in which she displays exquisite tenderness as she breathes and sways with the verse. Kwal is also intimate to the point of claustrophobic in his recitations, but I love the mesmeric grain in his voice. The pairing of instrumental tracks, too, is clever. Arcadelt’s Du temps que j’estois amoureux, dripping with witfulness, is followed by an instrumental performance which, although not as warm as the recorders on Doulce Mémoire’s previous album, nonetheless offers an emotional breathing space.

The genius of Lassus is evident in his stunning La nuit froyde et sombre, which I first heard on a much older recording by the Purcell Consort of Voices (Argo, 7/72). It’s enjoyable to compare the two – how uncluttered and direct this new performance is, with long, unhurried lines that gradually break into drops of honey from the heavens. A superb madrigalian moment.

Elsewhere, most notably in Lassus’s O foible esprit, I find the vocal ensemble occasionally falters, sounding unconfident as it navigates shifting harmonics: Doulce Mémoire take such a different approach to Ensemble Clément Janequin (Harmonia Mundi, 2/93), but my preference remains for the arrow-like accuracy of Dominique Visse’s top line. In Verdonck’s Seul et pensif, my desire for taut, vibrant singing also leads me to think that the vocal threads in the multi-voice performances are just too loose to maintain clarity and focus on Du Bellay’s words.




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