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"Le Grand Jeu - French Baroque Organ Favorites"

Gaétan Jarry, organ

rec: July 8 - 11, 2019, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS024 (© 2020) (65'19")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Te Deum (H 146) (prélude); Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795): Concerto for organ in A, op. 26,2; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Messe propre pour les couvents de religieux et religieuses (Plein chant du premier Kyrie, en taille); Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): Passacaille d'Armide; Jean-François DANDRIEU (1682-1738): Premier Livre de Pièces d'Orgue (Offertoire pour le jour de Pâques 'O filii et filiae'); Nicolas DE GRIGNY (1672-1703): Premier Livre d'Orgue (Gloria: Récit de tierce en taille); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Solomon (HWV 67) (Sinfonia 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'); Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Atys (LWV 53) (overture; Le Sommeil (Dormons, dormons nous)); Louis MARCHAND (1669-1732): Troisième Livre d'Orgue (Grand Dialogue en Ut); Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Dido and Aeneas (Z 626) (Dido's lament (When I am laid in earth)); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Les Boréades (Contredanse en rondeau; Contredanse très vive); Les Indes galantes (Les Sauvages); Pièces de clavecin en concerts No. 1 in c minor (La Livri)

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.

Laurent Brunner, director of the label, invited Gaétan Jarry to make a recording which could serve as a kind of selfportrait of the organ. Jarry decided to put together a programme of his personal favourites. Among them are a couple of famous organ works, such as Marchand's Grand Dialogue en Ut and the récit de tierce en taille from the Gloria in Nicolas de Grigny's Livre d'Orgue. In addition he plays some transcriptions, mostly of French orchestral or chamber music as well as two pieces from the English baroque, by Handel and Purcell. There is no fundamental objection to playing transcriptions: Bach transcribed concertos by Vivaldi for organ. What really matters is whether it works on a particular instrument and whether it does justice to the original compositions. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The organ concerto by Michel Corrette works rather well, which does not surprise as it was written for the organ. In this case, the fact that it was very likely intended for a much smaller instrument does not really matter. Jean-Henry d'Anglebert's Passacaille d'Armide is a harpsichord transcription of a piece from Lully's opera of that name. It comes off pretty well on the organ. In contrast, the other opera transcriptions are far less convincing. The Contredanse en rondeau from Rameau's opera Les Boréades is an example of a piece which suffers from the acoustic: it needs a fast tempo, but as a result it becomes rather muddy and its character is damaged. On the other hand, Dido's lament from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas is a piece which is unsuited for an organ transcription as little is left of its expression. And the Sommeil from Lully's Atys lacks the subtlety of the original.

The performance of a piece like Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba brings us back to old times, when some organists - the likes of Edward Power Biggs - liked to play programmes of lollipops. I'm not a great fan of such programmes, to put it mildly. There is something else here which I find hard to accept. Jarry, in his liner-notes, writes: "[To] add a new dimension to the organ's sound universe and to enhance its orchestral qualities, modern editing and 're-recording' processes were used. In particular, they enabled the recording and colour changes in a work to be freely multiplied (...); they were also used to serve the 'superposition' of soloists' play (...), orchestral parts (…), or again continuo and vocal parts (...)." In my view, a recording should stay as close to a live performance as possible. Historical performance practice also means that one should avoid technical interventions which result in a performance that would be impossible on the stage, and mostly definitely were unthinkable in the composer's time.

Gaétan Jarry is an excellent organist, and there is nothing wrong with his performances at all. It was also a splendid idea to make a recording which shows the many features of the instrument. However, I think that the organ literature from the pre-romantic period offers more than enough material to do that. This would have resulted in a programme of more substance.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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