Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), Lassus, was the most widely-respected composer of his age. His output ranges over a wide spectrum of styles and genres – from the demotic and downright "lowly" chansons and Lieder through both secular and sacred madrigals and court music, to highly refined masses and liturgical compositions. All these forms of Lasso's music share the quality of an almost naîve joie de vivre; yet Lassus never descended to the vulgar, or ran the risk of pomposity or undue piety. Bonjour mon Cœur is a collection of what the note which accompanies the CD calls "Entertainment music of substance" by Lassus and nearly a dozen of his contemporaries… some well known, like Adrian Willaert (1490-1562); others more obscure and unrepresented elsewhere in the current catalog, like Jean de Castro (c.1540-c.1600).
Not that the teeth are in any way drawn from this music – at least not in these spirited and at the same time authoritative interpretations of Capilla Flamenca. There is a nice mix: there are gaiety, movement and elegance. And grace: the way the ensemble conveys all the emotions of the music stops well short of punchiness. Equally, they perform each work with sensitivity and style, never in any staid way.
Many of the pieces here presented are variations, "imitations", "emulations", "parodies" or "contrafacts" of works originally conceived (or indeed perhaps themselves originally borrowed) by Lassus and his contemporaries. The music remained, but a – usually sacred – text replaced a – usually secular – one. It's still hard for a post-Romantic mind to appreciate just how acceptable, how lauded even, this practice was. The CD is in fact centered around the particularly refined chanson by Ronsard, Bonjour mon Cœur. It should also be enjoyed for the lyrical beauty of the songs, which Capilla Flamenca perform with as much gravity and gentility as wit. Indeed, this is an excellent assembly of pieces illustrating the ways in which Renaissance songs dealt with love.
The way in which Capilla Flamenca expose, rather than completely sink themselves into, the songs on the CD is never either didactic or doctrinaire. Their approach comes across as well thought-out: their decision to divide the selection into four groupings corresponding to times of day (in keeping with the spirit of Bonjour mon Cœur) should better provide the listener with a framework for reacting to love's many attendant emotions… pain, exhilaration, hope, despair etc. than would a random sequence. Love awakes in the morning, becomes "exuberant" in the afternoon, eternal in the evening (all six pieces in this section are Lassus') and sleeps at night. On the whole, there are more slower and implicitly reflective works here than there are upbeat ones.
So, it's clear that great care has gone into conceiving, performing and producing this exemplary CD. Capilla Flamenca and Dirk Snellings, its director who also sings bass, are to be congratulated. The result is both entertaining and substantial. The variety of music is stimulating, and is enhanced when you know something of this contextualization. The standard of interpretation itself is very high. Unless every composer here is familiar to you, it's likely that you'll find new favorites. And, although just half the works are by Lassus himself, Bonjour mon Cœur is a good introduction to his work and the genres at which he was so expert and which he could turn to such good account.
The acoustic is close and intimate – surely the right way to present this repertoire… the plucked, wind and stringed instruments have presence and make an appropriate contribution. The "Digipak" has notes in Flemish, French, German and English – and has the texts in their original language and in translations where necessary (the songs are variously in Flemish, French, German). There is a detailed track listing, and an image of a very stern Lassus which somehow conveys his stature, as well as a photograph of the nine-person Capilla Flamenca. This is a more than merely pleasant recital. It's informative, representative of the genres whose music it contains, very persuasively performed and makes an excellent introduction to the accompanied vocal music in the sixteenth century of which Lassus was such an accomplished, imaginative and impeccably polished exponent. Recommended.
Copyright © 2010, Mark Sealey.