Airs De Cour - Catherine King & Jacob Heringman - BBC Music Magazine
Simple courtly airs dominated secular vocal music in early 17th-century France. They then profoundly influenced the nature of Lully's operas, holding at bay the florid Italian aria which overran the rest of Europe. Yet only a handful have been recorded - one composer here, Moulinie, is new to the CD catalogue.
For all their innocence, airs de cour are subtly artful. Rhythms are elusive - irregular groupings of bars add up to a formal eight-bar phrase, teasing cross-rhythms deceive the ear.
Repeated verses invite gentle decoration as the passions in the text intensify. Dialogues set innocent opposites: '...let us live/die; [love] is a sea/a fire.' Solo lute arrangements retain the ardour of absent words.
However artificial the social context to which these songs belong, the sheer beauty of sound here is profoundly moving. King and Daniels are distinctive, yet perfectly matched. Through six verses of a melody which has haunted me for days, King subtly increases the decoration and intensifies the emotion. Daniels soars effortlessly into the characteristic French haute coutre range, often above King's colourful lower register. Pronunciation revives 17th-century accent, singers at last taking timbre as seriously as instrumentalists have for decades.
A glorious acoustic adds a halo of resonance to the crystal clarity of voices and lute. A superb disc I've found compulsive listening.