Jacob Cats was not a feline of the four-footed variety, nor did he have anything to do with a certain well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber show that runs "now and forever." Cats was sort of a Rococo F. Lee Bailey; he once successfully defended a woman against a charge of witchcraft -- that didn't happen too often in early 17th century Holland -- and made a handsome living working on behalf of Dutch pirates plundering Spanish traders during the Eighty Years' War. As the Dutch Golden Age wore on, Cats ultimately became the equivalent of Attorney General within Holland and helped expand the land mass of the Netherlands through his continuing involvement with improving its system of dikes; some Netherlanders still refer to him as "Father Cats." Cats was also a poet of considerable renown, starting relatively late in life; his verse was of a very regular sort, populist in style and based in the Dutch moral code of that time.
Cats was not a composer, but a compiler; he often indicated melodies to which his poems could be sung, without exception French popular tunes which, in Cats' day, were nearly common as cats. In the case of his collection Mourning Maidens, the volume itself was the response to a request from Dutch women who wanted to sing certain French melodies but could not get the racy French lyrics onto their tongues. Cats devised special Dutch lyrics to take the place of the naughty French ones; these were often developed out of Biblical passages and could run as many as 20 or 30 verses. Dutch early music ensemble Camerata Trajectina has wisely decided to condense such long, long songs in its Globe CD Jacob Cats: Klagende Maeghden en andere liederen (Jacob Cats: Mourning Maidens and other songs). It's a great project for a group with the strong interpretive skills of Camerata Trajectina; all of the pieces are popular and monophonic, leading to a wide variety of period instrumentation and singing styles, with baritone Marcel Moester particularly relishing the guttural and low Dutch of the texts. However there are two major issues with this album; one is that, while the vocals are loud and clear for the balance of it, the instruments are too quiet, and there are songs in which they can hardly be heard at all. The second issue is with the texts; an English summary is provided for certain texts, but not all, and it is not as though folks in lands other than the Netherlands can simply draw their translated volume of Jacob Cats off the shelf and get an idea of what is going on. Cats' poems are stories with morals, and not to know the story is something that makes this a listening experience of debatable value, even though Camerata Trajectina's enthusiasm for the project clearly comes through in its expression of the music.
If one is conversant in Cats' 17th century Dutch -- much as a modern English speaker may be able to follow the arcane phrases and language of William Shakespeare -- then Globe's Jacob Cats: Klagende Maeghden en andere liederen may well be a rewarding and even amusing experience. But it is hard to be more enthusiastic for a product that is so obscure and withholds so much of its meaning, both musically and topically.