Le Poeme Harmonique - Vicent Dumestre
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cd cover Le Poème Harmonique-Vicent Dumestre
Plaisir d'amour: Chansons & romances de la France d'autrefois
Alpha (www.alpha-prod.com)

Inspired by Giambattista Vico's view that the first language was poetry, not prose, to be sung, not spoken, the Romantics, led by the likes of Johann Gottfried von Herder, took up folk music as an antidote to the artifice and pretense of Enlightenment high culture. Their views resonated with a resurgent taste for such archaic instruments as bagpipes, hurdy gurdy and psaltery; the imputation of a spontaneous, instinctual, mysterious quality to folk songs; and a flurry of song collection and transcription by European scholars. Of course, nothing is so simple, and as musical director Vincent Dumestre's notes point out, "The folk song repertoire is complex, and the relationship between such disparate works is subjective… Many songs that were, and still are, imagined to be folk songs are in fact borrowings from the repertoire of art music: the listener considers as authentically 'folk' only those songs that he does not know from elsewhere."

A few examples reveal the complexity of all this. From the French folk repertoire listeners will recognize "Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough" from The Marriage of Figaro (or as the melody to "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"). Similarly,"Ah! vous dirai-je maman" recalls "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (Mozart borrowed the French melody and penned his 12 variations; Ann and Jane Taylor wrote and published the English nursery lyrics in 1806), while the title track has been adapted by artists as diverse as Berlioz and Joan Baez. The 15 tunes interpreted here appeared or were transcribed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Le Poème Harmonique includes Dumestre on baroque guitar and théorbe, a trio of vocalists, and an ensemble comprising violin, viola, flute, cornemusa, vielle à roué, harp and pianoforte. Excellent production values and informative notes in French and competent English translation round out the package. - Michael Stone

Listen to an excerpt from "Jan Petit que danse"
Listen to "Quand je menais les chevaux boire"

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