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CD-16274 -
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De Profundis


If you are listening to this disc, or are about to listen to it, the chances are that your curiosity has been aroused, just as ours was, as to why these composers wrote for three bass voices. Would a whole program for this combination of low voices sound excessively dark, heavy or even gloomy, as some sceptical concert organizers have feared?

The sequence of works, both ancient and modern, that we have put together on this disc, enables us to answer some of these questions, and at the same time bring before the public a number of hitherto little-known treasures. It is by no means an exhaustive survey of the repertoire for three basses, for we have enough material, ranging from the 14th to the 21st century, for at least three more programmes.

We have varied the textures by including works for different combinations of voices and instruments—a motet for two basses (one singing in echo effect) announcing the Archangel Michael’s victory over the dragon, which is followed by Cazzati’s highly dramatic motet for solo bass, narrating a mighty combat of angelic armies and the resulting fall of the angel Lucifer (Stockhausen’s favourite “baddy”); but we have also included two works for four basses, which allow the serpent and the gamba a turn at “singing” the fourth bass part, in keeping with performance practices of the period, in which instruments would replace voices where necessary or desirable.

Thus, if we have chosen to keep this disc relatively short, compared to the 80 minutes that CAN be crammed into a CD, it is not for lack of material, but with the aim of presenting an emotional sequence that can be enjoyed in one sitting; this loosely traces a path through various experiences of the human soul—and (with the exception of the modern pieces of course) more specifically that of the Christian in the baroque period. We travel from the depths of despair and anxiety in the face of death, through reconciliation with the estranged father in Lee Santana’s poignant, (and very secular!) songs; past celestial battles, to the Magi’s marvelling at the sight of the star indicating the place of Jesus’ birth, and ending with an atmosphere of almost ecstatic repose in the comforting person of Mary—“mother of God”, the “star of the sea”—in the wonderful Salve Regina by Thomas Eisenhuet.

Though this disc is not in any way a musicological survey of the repertoire for three basses, neither is it a so-called “crossover” project. Of course there are undeniably strong jazz elements in the programme, as one would expect, given that the serpent player Michel Godard is one of France’s leading jazz musicians and composers, a truly versatile musician, equally at ease in ancient as in modern music, frequently taking his inspiration from plainchant, renaissance and baroque forms, and folk-music in his compositions and improvisations, as his rich and varied discography testifies.

A significant reason for asking Michel, Lee and Hille to grace this project with their genius (apart from the fact that I love everything they do!), was the hope that there could also be a certain, or even considerable, amount of improvisation. Lee and Hille, whom I consider to be the very best continuo duo I have ever known, interacted superbly with Michel in his pieces, as he did in Lee’s songs. Like most of the great American lutanists Lee’s first professional work was in various sorts of popular music (rock, jazz, etc.). Although Lee writes almost exclusively for early music instruments, one can also hear clear influences of popular music alongside those from baroque music. There is a fair amount of improvisation in the instrumental parts of Lee’s songs, most notably the amusing instructions to the Michel in the hilarious “Mr Ed”: “noises imitating vertical walrus” and “please oblige your serpent to belch, squeal, fart, burp etc. in this verse”. The beautiful singing line of the serpent at the end of “This time the last” is pure Godardian reaction to Lee’s words “Please improvise on this final section “colouring” in the style of an organ”

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