Viola da gamba player Ralph Rousseau is not French but Dutch; he uses his mother's maiden name in preference to the tough-to-pronounce Meulenbroeks, his father's name. He confidently maintains that the idea of combining French Baroque gamba music with arrangements of twentieth century French pop "seems completely natural, even evident, to me." In fact the effect is so unusual as to be uncanny, but Chansons d'amour certainly gets points for sheer originality. There are several layers of fusion happening here. First is that between the realms of song and instrumental music; although the album title promises love songs, all the music is instrumental. Rousseau, who points out that the gamba's top string is called the chanterelle, focuses on the almost declamatory, rhetorical quality that the viola da gamba has in its Baroque language, transferring it with remarkable effectiveness to the likes of Jacques Brel's Ne me quittes pas. Second is the above-mentioned blurring of the classical-popular boundary. Here Rousseau is on somewhat more familiar ground; the structural analogies between Baroque music and jazz have been proposed before, and Rousseau's French popular songs -- famous ones by Edith Piaf, Brel, and Michel Legrand among them -- are jazzy in feel, relying on rhythmic and melodic elaboration over easily identifiable harmonic patterns. But the third boundary being crossed is one that has remained pristine until now: what makes the sound of Chansons d'amour really mysterious is the combination of the viola da gamba with a Classical-era string quintet: the Matangi String Quartet plus a double bass. It is this unique ensemble that sets off the plaintive calls of the viola da gamba and ties together the diverse materials on the program. Most of the music is further linked by its downbeat mood, at least until the final Roland Vincent song, Pour un flirt, which has a truly memorable exuberance. A genuine novelty that stands a reasonable chance at dominating the listening of any given buyer for a long time.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147 (BC A174)|