musica Dei donum

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"Tiroirs secrets - French organ rarities"

Lucile Dollat, organ; Michael Metzler, percussion

rec: Dec 18 - 20, 2020, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS057 (© 2022) (72'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

François D'AGINCOUR (1684-1758): Suite du 6e ton; Suite in G minor; Claude-Bénigne BALBASTRE (1724-1799): Concerto in D; Charles PIROYE (1665-1724): L'Allégresse; L'Immortelle; La Brillante; La Béatitude; La Paix; La Royal (attr); André RAISON (c1640/50-1719): Christe. Chaconne; Offerte du 5e ton sur Vive Le Roy des Parisiens

The organ music that was written in France during the 17th and 18th centuries was mostly intended for liturgical use, even if that is not specifically indicated. Several organists published collections of music, ordered into suites, comparable with what was common practice in harpsichord music. Even so, the movements of those suites were mostly performed in alternation with liturgical chants, such as the mass and the Magnificat.

Whereas parts of the repertoire are based on plainchant melodies, in the course of time a process of 'secularization' took place, as composers moved away from liturgical chants and adopted elements of secular music, in particular in the Italian style. A clear example is the organ music of Jean-François Dandrieu, who wrote trio sonatas, and then adapted movements from them as organ pieces. The process of secularization was more or less completed by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, who composed extra-liturgical music, such as the Concerto in D, which opens the programme recorded by Lucile Dollat. The writing of such music was stimulated, when in 1748 the Concert Spirituel, the concert organization that had started its activities in 1725, was equipped with an organ, which was one of the first specifically intended for non-liturgical use.

Balbastre may be the only really well-known composer in the programme. He has become known mainly because of his Noëls, which are still played by organist in the Christmas period. He also wrote a substantial amount of harpsichord music, which is not above criticism in our time, as it is often considered rather superficial. The Concerto in D is written in the Italian style, even though the first movement has the French title of prélude and the third is a gigue. In fact it is a concerto in four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast.

The least-known composer is probably Charles Piroye, and even organists may not know his music. The reason may be that the five pieces from his pen - and La Royal which is attributed to him - were not intended for liturgical use. They bear titles that point in the direction of the harpsichord music of his time, which also often has titles referring to human characters or phenomena from everyday life. He was a pupil of Lully and Lambert, and for a number of years active as organist in churches. He left his last position as organist in 1717 and worked until his death as a harpsichord teacher. He was highly appreciated and the publisher, in the preface to his Pièces choisis, stated that "his learned and delicate way of playing the organ and harpsichord bring each day renewed applause". As far as the style of his keyboard pieces is concerned, it is probably telling that they are intended for organ or harpsichord, or other sorts of musical instruments. There is indeed nothing sacred in these pieces, and one wonders how they may have been used in the liturgy.

That said, the disc ends with the Offerte du 5e ton sur Vive Le Roy des Parisiens, which also does not seem to be suited for liturgical use. However, William Besserer and Lucile Dollat, in their liner-notes, write: "[Although] intended to be played during religious services, it was composed in honour of Louis XIV and incorporates a popular melody customary for public acclamations of the monarch. The piece shows remarkable pomp, characterised by an expression of joy and grace". This piece only confirms the secularization of organ music as mentioned above.

With the two suites by François d'Agincour we are firmly back into the liturgy, as his seven suites were intended for liturgical use, probably to be played in alternation with verses from the Magnificat sung in plainchant. He was from Rouen and probably studied with Nicolas Lebègue. After having served a few years as organist of Ste Madeleine-en-la-Cité in Paris, he returned to Rouen, where he succeeded Jacques Boyvin as organist of the Cathedral. He occupied this post until his death. In 1714 he was also given one of the four posts of organist at the Chapelle Royale. His organ pieces, 46 in total, are not that well-known and far less often played than the music of his contemporaries.

This is the seventh disc on the Château de Versailles Spectacles label, devoted to organ music performed at the organ of the Chapelle Royale in Versailles, which dates from 1711. It is pretty much the ideal instrument, both for the liturgical and the more secular works. Lucile Dollat is a young organist who has won several prizes and is giving concerts across Europe. I had not heard her before, and I am impressed by her style of playing. In combination with the way she has put together this programme this would have made me unequivocally recommend this disc. That is to say: if she had not had the bad idea of including percussion in a number of items: Balbastre's Concerto in D, several of Piroye's pieces and Raison's Offerte. It is acknowledged in the liner-notes that the music does not suggest this way of performance. Some may consider this a kind of 'creative' interpretation, but it has spoilt my enjoyment of the pieces in which Metzler adds his percussion. It has nothing to do with historical performance practice.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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