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"Grandes orgues 1710 Chapelle Royale de Versailles"

Ton Koopman, organ

rec: May 19 - 23, 2019, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS016 (© 2019) (57'49")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Clérambault
Scores Daquin

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639); Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749): Suite du 1er ton [1]; Suite du 2e ton [1]; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Messe pour les couvents (Élévation, tierce en taille); Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661): Duo; Fantaisie; Fantaisie; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): À la venue de Noël [2]; Noël étranger [2]; Noël Suisse [2]

Sources: [1] Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Premier livre d'orgue contenant deux suites, c1710; [2] Louis-Claude Daquin, Nouveau Livre de Noëls pour l’Orgue et le Clavecin, dont la plûpart peuvent s’exécuter sur les Violons, Flutes, Hautbois etc., 1757

The chapel of the royal palace in Versailles is a unique venue, which brings us in direct contact with a glorious past: the ancien régime under Louis XIV, the Sun King. Since a number of years it is frequently used for public concerts, under the auspices of Château de Versailles Spectacles. Many of them have also been released on disc, mostly on the label Alpha. A couple of years ago Château de Versailles Spectacles started its own label, which since then has released several discs with music from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was only recently that a new series started, devoted to organ music played at the historical Cliquot organ of the chapel. The Dutch organist Ton Koopman had the honour to make the very first recording on this instrument.

The organ was consecrated on 5 June 1710 by François Couperin. During the 18th century, it was altered several times, each time by a descendant of Robert Clicquot, who constructed the original organ. Fortunately it escaped the fate of being sold during the French Revolution. In 1872 Aristide Cavaillé-Coll turned it into a romantic instrument, and in 1935 it was altered again, now in Neoclassical style. In 1989 the organ was disassembled and then rebuilt according to Cliquot's design. The current organ was inaugurated by Michel Chapuis in November 1995. In its present form, it has 37 registers, divided over four manuals and pedal. Its pitch is a=415', the tuning meantone.

The tuning has a substantial effect on the choice of repertoire. Originally Ton Koopman had included two pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, among them the Fantasia in G. However, as Laurent Brunner writes in the booklet, "a powerful temperature rise was the recording surprise and meant on that day that it was impossible to tune correctly: the Fantasia was so out of tune that we had to abandon our intention of showing that it could be played on an instrument à la française". I would have loved to hear it, especially as the chorale arrangement Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ shows that meantone temperament is not the best option to perform Bach's organ works.

The rest of the programme is much more convincing. It was Koopman's suggestion to record the two organ suites by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, as they are not that well-known. It is a nice coincidence that these pieces were published around 1710, the year that the organ was inaugurated. Clérambault was born in 1676 in Paris in a musical family whose members had served the kings of France since the 15th century. His father Dominique was a violinist and a member of the 24 violons du roi. Louis-Nicolas probably received his first music lessons from him. His organ teacher was André Raison, to whom he dedicated his Livre d'orgue. His oeuvre is not very sizeable, but of consistently high quality. He was a major contributor to the genre of the chamber cantata, which became popular in the early decades of the 18th century under the influence of the Italian style. Five books of such cantatas were published between 1710 and 1726. He also wrote a small number of chamber music works, but the largest part of his oeuvre comprises music for liturgical purposes: motets and other sacred vocal works. It is likely that these were mostly written for the Maison Royale de Saint-Cyr, near Versailles, where he was appointed organist in 1714. At the time he published his organ suites, he acted as organist of Grands-Augustins in Paris, where he had been appointed in 1707.

Like most French organ suites from the 17th and 18th centuries, these two by Clérambault are intended for the alternatim practice in the liturgy, but as there are no indications as at which part of mass they have to be performed, it is certainly possible to play them outside a liturgical context, as is the case here. The Suite du 1er ton opens with a Grand plein jeu in three to four parts; towards the end it includes a passage with chromaticism. It is followed by a fugue, a duo and a trio. For the latter Clérambault indicates the registration, as was customary in French organ music. That is also the case with the next two movements, a piece for trumpet or cornet and a dialogue between cromorne and cornet respectively. The suite closes with a dialogue on the grands jeux. Like this suite, the Suite du 2e ton comprises seven movements, the first and last for grands jeux. The structure is largely the same, with some modifications. The second movement is not a fugue, but the opening grand jeu is immediately followed by a duo and a trio. The fourth movement is a solo for the cromorne in the bass; the right hand plays an accompanying role. The next movement is for the flute stops on the different manuals. It is followed by a récit de nazard, with the rhythm of a gigue. The last piece is called Caprice, and has the form of a fugue. It ends with a passage on the trumpet in the pedal.

In addition to these two suites, Koopman plays some well-known Noëls by Louis-Claude Daquin. Such arrangements of Christmas songs were extremely popular and were originally improvised during services at Christmas eve. Obviously François Couperin could not be omitted: we hear an extract from one of his organ masses. The Couperins were all organists by profession, but have become mainly known as composers of harpsichord works. That goes in particular for Louis. Only a small number of organ works from his pen have been preserved, of which Koopman selected three.

It was a great idea to invite Ton Koopman for the first commercial recording at this organ. Under his hands the splendour of this great instrument is fully displayed. Considering his natural flair for this kind of music - he can fully explore his liking of playing trills and other ornaments - it is rather surprising that he has recorded so little French organ music. That is partly due to the fact that outside France, very few instruments are suitable for this kind of repertoire. I hope that he will have opportunities to make more recordings of French organ music. This disc is highly recommendable, especially as it includes the two suites by Clérambault. It will be hard to find better performances of them than these.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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