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GRAMOPHONE (08/2021)
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Harmonia Mundi

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Reviewer: William Yeoman

‘Merrily, merrily, let’s go, you and I.’ Claude Le Jeune’s Allons, allons gay gayment, from his second book of Melanges, published by Ballard in 1612, serves also as an invitation to join Les Arts Florissants on this delightful journey through the sometimes rarefied, sometimes rambunctious world of the 16th and 17th-century air de cour. Where the first two volumes of ‘Airs sérieux et à boire’ (6/16, 4/19) followed loose dramatic structures, this third is a Wunderkammer-like curated concert, exemplifying, as Anne-Madeleine Goulet’s booklet note has it, ‘a period when music was undergoing profound changes and when the rise of homophonic writing would gradually displace the vocal polyphony’. Indeed. Listening to these airs de cour by Le Jeune, Étienne Moulinié, Pierre Guédron and Antoine Boesset presented in various configurations from solo voice and lute through to full vocal and instrumental ensemble, one is reminded by the flexibility and contingency of Monteverdi’s later madrigals and even Dowland’s lute and consort songs.

The many masks of love loom large in the texts, whether joyful, anguished, unrequited or just annoying: ‘Spaniard, I beg you, leave me in peace!’ But other subjects, such as that of the languid Ô doux sommeil and mournful Dans le lit de la mort, elicit equally exquisite performances from the small ensemble comprising five singers and six instrumentalists – essentially a string quartet with theorbo and harpsichord. Yet a nuanced chiaroscuro and erotic exuberance permeate these miniature masterpieces, both in the writing and in the realisation.

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