Voices of the French Alps: Corou De Berra

Corou De Berra – Maschi, Femmine and Cantanti
Corou De Berra

Maschi, Femmine and Cantanti (Forrest Hill Records, 2005)

Corou De Berra hails from Berra in the (southern) French Alps and the 7-person choir performs polyphonic chants from the Nicoise region of France. The choir celebrates their 20th anniversary this year and remains dedicated to preserving their rich musical heritage.

To date, the choir has produced 8 CDs, has participated in film productions, appeared at various festivals throughout Europe, including Recontres Polyphoniques de Calvi on the island of Corsica and
presented their work in concerts. Led by vocalist, arranger and hurdy-gurdy player, Michel Bianco, Corou De Berra produces exciting vocal work.

Their 2005 release, Maschi, Femmine and Cantanti, which features selections from the late Genoese folk singer and poet Fabrizio De Andrè’s catalogue, acts as a departure for the choir. The vocalists which normally perform traditional songs from southern France a cappella, find themselves working with light instrumentation, (a string quartet, guitar, hurdy-gurdy and percussion) and performing songs of a contemporary Italian troubadour. Songs that would normally be performed by one or two vocalists have been expanded to include both polyphony and monody of mixed voices. The work here mirrors Corsican polyphony group A Filetta’s Si Di Me, which also featured monody backed by instruments such as strings and percussion. Both polyphony vocal groups met the challenge of marrying solo voices with polyphony created from various instruments and both groups arranged choral arrangements for ballads.

Although Andrè’s repertoire spanned 40 years, (1958 to 1998), when Corou De Berra vocalists present the songs they resemble renaissance or baroque choral arrangements. The harmonies are lush and its almost inconceivable that the vocalists are singing about contemporary topics, yet they are singing 20th
century lyrics. Listeners unfamiliar with the dialect the songs are sung, (such as myself), might think they are listening to Early Music. The 9 songs that appear on this recording, including, Ave Maria, Peter’s War, Rose Mouth and others (English titles) act as a gorgeous tribute to “the most cultivated and refined Italian singer-songwriters of the second half of the twentieth century.” (Wikipedia).

Similar to Corou De Berra honoring the musical traditions of the French Alps, Andrè paid tribute to traditional Genoese folk songs and wrote poetry in the spirit of the original troubadours that wandered through western Europe during the middle ages. He composed songs of amour, the unobtainable woman in les
passantes (the passer by), of a woman that nearly overturns a village with her profane love (bocca di rosa) and he sings controversial songs about Jesus, spirituality, morality and war. Given the subject matter of his songs and close proximity to southern France, the songs of Fabrizio De Andrè and the choral work of Corou De Berra compliment one another.

The recording, maschi femmine cantanti is fabulous in its own right, but also could be used as a treasure map when mining vocal traditions of the French Alps region and discovering Fabrizio De
Andrè’s folk songs. Consider that David Byrne listed Andrè’s album, Crueza de ma as a favorite album and I’m certain he’s not the only contemporary musician to jump on that bandwagon.

(I invite other music journalists and musicians to explore the work of Corou De Berra and Fabrizio De Andrè. The information that I found on Andrè is fascinating and his poetry quite profound, not to mention gorgeous. The vocal work of Corou De Berra is also something you want in your CD collection).

Fabrizio De Andrè Born: February 18, 1940 and died on January 11, 1999.

By Patricia Herlevi-Balquin

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