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CLASSICAL  April 2005

CLASSICAL April 2005

Subject:

Chansons by Janequin

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Apr 2005 08:36:41 -0500

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        Clement Janequin
       Selected chansons

Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal/Gilbert Patenaude
Analekta FL 2 3184 {} {}  TT: 46:17

Renaissance secular vocal music shows, I think, more variety than its
sacred, liturgical counterpart.  One encounters differences, not just
among composers, but among nations.  The madrigal, for example, essentially
belongs to Italy.  The English adapted the form to their own purposes
during the Tudor fad for all things Italian.  Spain and Germany tended
to write pieces based on their own folk music - much simpler and more
straightforward in concept than the madrigal.  Individual composers like
the German Heinrich Schuetz and the Flemish Adrian Willaert actually
studied in Italy and found the madrigal then.  France, as usual, went
its own way.  Its chief vocal form, the chanson, seems, generally speaking,
less contrapuntal and less self-consciously outre harmonically than the
madrigal and more concerned with the natural stress of text.

We know very little about Janequin's life, other than that he lived
a long one and moved around a lot from job to job.  He also brought a
lawsuit against his brother over the family inheritance.  The most popular
chanson composer of his time, He lived to see three volumes of his work
published.  Unfortunately, the publisher seems to have made most of the
money, just like today.  Indeed, Janequin's music achieved such success,
that an even less scrupulous publisher got up a volume of works by various
hands and simply attributed all the items therein to Janequin.

Most know Janequin for his programmatic pieces: works describing a battle,
birds, street cries, hunts, and so on.  This sort of depiction was nothing
new.  Josquin, for example, evoked the chirping of crickets in his little
frottole "El Grillo." Janequin, however, really went at it, creating a
genre whose point was to exhaust as many of the opportunities for imitation
as possible, as well as to provide a narrative that moved the piece
along.  For this reason, critics have labeled him a musical Realist.
However, "realism" almost always brings up problems.  What you find
realistic, I might not.  Janequin's birds, for example, don't sound very
much like birds to me.  Indeed, most musical birds, before Beethoven and
Messiaen, come over as far too stylized to earn points for realism.  It
turns out that, for me at least, the descriptive pieces show the lesser
side of this composer's art.  There's a lot more to Janequin than cannons,
fanfares, view-halloos, and chattering birds.  Like so many French
composers up through Boulez, he strives for elegance and a palpable
sensuousness in the music.  In many of his chansons, one finds a
characteristic restraint, a concern for the right note at the right time,
rather than a lot of notes.  I can't imagine Janequin indulging in either
the note-y exuberance of Monteverdi or the twisted gloom of Gesualdo.
The delightful "Ce moys de may" ("this month of May"), for example,
evokes the pastoral simplicity of folk music, while "Nature orant la
dame" ("Nature has decorated the woman") sings an almost-straightforward,
noble love song.

Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal, a Montreal choir of teens and boys
of about 75 strong, don't really suit much of this music - just too many
of them.  They're fine in the big descriptive pieces, with an exuberant
"Le chant des oyseaulx" (an especially thrilling return among the birdsong
of the beginning idea).  The attack is sharp enough, necessary for all
those folks to make their individual lines heard, but it's also crudely
heavy.  Consequently, they miss the spare elegance of the more reflective
pieces and tend to plod through the pastoral stuff.  As I say, I don't
believe this repertoire belongs to groups with more than three to a part,
and the quieter music sounds at its intimate best with one to a part,
especially in something like "Doulens regretz, ennuys, souspirs" ("sweet
regrets, doubts, sighs, and tears"), a very French love lament.  The
music is slow and reflective, but it does have a pulse.  The choir just
doesn't go anywhere.  The choral sound is nice enough - indeed, the teens
sound very adult - but the ends of pieces often dissolve into tatters,
as if the conductor, Gilbert Patenaude, doesn't know quite how to release
the music.  On the other hand, my favorite track and my favorite of
Janequin's descriptive pieces, "Les cris de Paris" ("the cries of Paris"),
can take, and indeed benefits from, the choir's rough treatment.  The
lines are all clear and crisp, and the group's characteristic choppiness
actually adds even more descriptive power to the portrayal of a
rough-and-tumble marketplace.  On the other hand, it also just ends, as
if one walked through a doorway to a sheer drop or a hoo-hah.  This
interpretive habit - and one must blame the director - vitiates all the
fine work that went before.  This piece (for that matter, the others as
well) needs a sense that it's capped by its ending, not cut short.

The sound is a bit too reverberant, but not enough to obscure the
counterpoint.

Steve Schwartz

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