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This article was written on 26 oct 2012, and is filled under Back Catalogue.

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Insurance against dark days

Claude Gervaise: Danceries (Claves records)

This is one of that rare band of discs that every household should have as insurance against those dark days that come along ever so often, when you get one piece of bad news after another, when the bills outnumber the checks, when you have a fight with someone you love or when you break something that doesn’t belong to you.

Listen and relax: Claude Gervaise: Bransle

For Christian Mendoze and his French and Swiss musicians have produced something sparkling here: music that soothes and animates from one track to the next in nearly an hour of sheer delight.

Claude Gervaise produced a large number of arrangements of dances and airs de cour in the mid-16th century: Pierre Attaignant’s printing press brought out six collections of these Danceries à 4 et 5 parties between (roughly) 1545 and 1556, although only three volumes survive. Gervaise didn’t prescribe any particular instrumentation in his arrangements, so as to allow his performers the widest range of choice in presentation (and thus his publisher the biggest market), which, of course, likewise gives carte blanche to today’s musicians. The arranger here is unspecified: one imagines it is Christian Mendoze himself, since this appears to be his party.

The instrumentation in this recording – apparently the fullest representation of Gervaise currently available – is sometimes for brass quartet but more often for « broken consort » using some of the Swiss brass and the winds of Mendoze’s Provencal group Ensemble Musica Antiqua. The procedure in Gervaise’s dances is relatively simple: little, simple snippets od melody, often of considerable rhythmic  insistence, are repeated in a first instrument and are gradually joined by others to build up a fuller, beefier texture.

Album Cover

The faster dances rattle along at sprightly tempos: the slower ones are often wistful, delicate, sometimes surpisingly pensive. One of the reasons the music is so directly appealling is that it involves at least this listener directly: I can’t stop myself whistling little counterpoints to Gervaise’s bright and bouncy tunes – they simply dance you along with them. I wasn’t surprised to read that Mendoze was a choreographer in a previous life, for he brings an infectious sense of moveread to these modest, irresistible delights. Bright, clear, full sound.

A winner, recommended for all those who wish to reconstitute a flagging sense of fun – if this doesn’t cheer you up, see a doctor !

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© Martin Anderson, in Fanfare, November/December 1997

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