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CD reviews

Magnificats & Noëls for organ

[I] Jean-François DANDRIEU (1681 - 1738): "Magnificats"
Jean-Baptiste Robin, organ
rec: July 8 - 11, 2019, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS023 (© 2019) (70'52")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

À la venue de Noël [2]; Bon Joseph écoutez-moi [2]; Carillon ou cloches [2]; Or nous dites Marie [2]; Suite I in d minor (Fugue sur l'hymne Ave maris stella; Offertoire sur le Jour de Pâques 'O filii et filiae'; Magnificat du 1er ton) [1]; Suite III in g (Magnificat du 2e ton) [1]; Suite IV in G (Magnificat du 8e ton; Muzète) [1]; Suite V in a minor (Fugue [II]; Magnificat du 3e ton) [1]; Suite VI in A (Tierce en taille) [1]

Sources: [1] Premier Livre de Pièces d'Orgue, 1739; [2] Noëls, O Filii, Chansons de St. Jacques, et Carillons. Le tout extremement Varié et mis pour l’Orgue et pour le Clavecin, 1759

[II] "Noëls baroques à Versailles"
Gaétan Jarry, organ
Choeur des Pages du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (Olivier Schneebeli)
rec: June 23 - 25, 2019, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS025 (© 2019) (70'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Claude-Bénigne BALBASTRE (1724-1799): À la venue de Noël [4]; Joseph est bien marié [4]; Or nous dites Marie [4]; Où s'en vont ces gais bergers [4]; Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795): Tous les bourgeois de Chatres [1]; Jean-François DANDRIEU (1681-1738): Vous qui désirez sans fin [3]; Pierre DANDRIEU (1664-1733): Laissez paître vos bêtes [3]; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): Qu'Adam fut un pauvre homme [2]; Quand le sauveur Jésus-Christ [2]; Une jeune pucelle [2]

Sources: [1] Michel Corrette, Nouveau Livre de noëls pour le Clavecin ou l'Orgue, 1741; [2] Louis-Claude Daquin, Nouveau livre de noëls, 1757; [3] Jean-François Dandrieu, Noëls, O Filii, Chansons de St. Jacques, et Carillons. Le tout extremement Varié et mis pour l’Orgue et pour le Clavecin, 1759; [4] Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Recueil de noëls formant 4 suittes, 1770

Since 2009, the wonderful Royal Chapel in the castle of Versailles offers an annual programme of concerts, some of which are also released on disc. So far, the historical organ of 1710 by the Clicquot dynasty, and restored in the 1990s to its original state, was not documented on disc. The label Château de Versailles de Spectacles has planned a series of recordings of this instrument. The first disc was recorded by Ton Koopman and on the next two his colleages Jean-Baptiste Robin - the organ's incumbent since 2010 - and Gaétan Jarry present the instrument in programmes of French organ music of the 18th century.

Robin devoted his entire programme to music by one of his predecessors, Jean-François Dandrieu, who was born in Paris and received his first music lessons from his uncle, Pierre, organist of St Barthélemy, and probably also from Jean-Baptiste Moreau. From 1705 until his death he acted as organist of St Merry, a post earlier held by the famous Nicolas Lebègue. In 1721 he was also appointed organist of the Chapelle Royale, and in the last years of his life he occupied the position of his uncle at St Barthélemy.

Dandrieu published four books with harpsichord pieces and one book with organ works. The Premier Livre de Pièces d'Orgue was printed in 1739, the year after his death. Originally, he had planned to publish two books of organ pieces, which should include twelve suites, six in a major key, and six in a minor key. Each suite was to open with an Offertoire and close with a Magnificat. About the character of his organ works, he stated: "I have endeavoured throughout to grasp this noble and elegant simplicity which is the specific character of the organ, and taken care to indicate the movement and the mood of each piece, using terms which seemed to me to be the most appropriate to indicate my intentions." Probably due to his death, only one book with six suites was published. It includes Pièces in D La Ré, G Ré Sol and A Mi La, each of them in major and minor respectively.

Robin selected four of the six Magnificats. These comprise five to seven verses, whose titles refer to their form (Duo, Trio) or the required registration (plein jeu, basse de trompette, flûte), and a character indication (tendrement, vif et marqué). Obviously, these Magnificats were intended for the alternatim practice in the liturgy. However, Dandrieu does not indicate which verses of the Magnificat he has set, and which are to be sung. This may well be deliberate. His organ works show his mastery of counterpoint, for instance in the application of the form of the fugue. (The German theorist Marpurg states that Dandrieu was called "the German organist", probably because of his preference for counterpoint which was associated with the German style.) However, they are quite modern in that they include pieces which show the influence of Lully's operas. Some pieces are transcriptions of movements from his trio sonatas. There are also pieces which one often finds in harpsichord suites and instrumental works of the time, such as the musette (Suite IV in G, Muzète). Dandrieu's organ suites bear witness to the changes in organ music in the early 18th century which is also reflected by the almost complete disappearance of plainchant melodies.

In addition, Robin selected pieces from various suites as well as a number of Noëls, representing a genre that was very popular from the late 17th century onwards. The origin of these songs often go back as far as the Middle Ages. They gradually became part of the liturgy. Until the beginning of the 17th century they were sung during the Offertory; then the ecclesiastical authorities tried to put an end to this tradition. As a way of compensation, organists started to play variations on these songs during the Offertory. Dandrieu's Noëls are included in a book of such pieces which was printed 21 years after his death, probably by his sister who was also an organist. These are not original compositions, but rather arrangements or reworkings of pieces by his uncle Pierre. Modern influences are traceable here as well.

Gaétan Jarry devoted his entire programme to this genre. Almost any composer of organ music under the ancien régime wrote Noëls, and even in the oeuvre of composers who were not active as organist, one can find settings of such popular Christmas carols. One of them is Marc-Antoine Charpentier, whose oeuvre includes several suites of Noëls for instrumental ensemble. Jarry opens with Laissez paître vos bêtes; Pierre Dandrieu is mentioned as the composer, but it is part of the collection printed in 1759.

One of the main composers of Noëls of the 18th century was Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. He was born in Dijon and received lessons from Claude Rameau, Jean-Philippe's younger brother. Later he succeeded him as organist of Saint-Etienne in Dijon. In 1750 he settled in Paris where he took composition lessons from Jean-Philippe. In 1756 he was appointed organist of St Roch. When he played his own Noëls en variations at this church every year at Midnight Mass, the performance attracted such a crowd that in 1762 the archbishop finally forbade him to play. In 1770 a collection of four suites of Noëls for harpsichord or organ was printed.

Balbastre's Noëls were not unique in being intended for either organ or harpsichord. The same goes for the 1759 collection of Dandrieu. Today, they are seldom played at the harpsichord. In a way, that is a shame, because it means that they are not that often performed on an appropriate instrument. The Noël repertoire is quite popular among organists across the world, but they seldom have an instrument at their disposal that does them justice. They are often even played on symphonic organs. The two discs under review here demonstrate how much they benefit from an instrument that has the colours the composers had in mind.

One of the reasons that French Noëls are so popular, is that a number of melodies are known all over the world. However, the original French texts are hardly known. These Noëls are almost exclusively played, and almost never sung. Therefore it was a splendid idea of Gaétan Jarry to include vocal versions in his recording. They are performed by the children's choir of the Centre de musique baroque in Versailles. They sing the stanzas in alternation with the organ variations. It makes this disc all the more enjoyable, and a meaningful alternative to previous recordings of Noëls. The singing of the choir has an infectious freshness.

Both organists are excellent performers, and fully explore the opportunities the organ offers them. For organ lovers, these two discs are treasures, and they should keep an eye on upcoming recordings at the magnificent organ in the Chapelle Royale in Versailles.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Jean-Baptiste Robin
Choeur des Pages du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles

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