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"Le Grand Siècle de l'Orgue Liégeois"

Luc Ponet, organ; Schola Gregoriana Feminea/Jan Peetersa

rec: June 2018, Tongeren (B), Basilica
Et'cetera - KTC 1638 (© 2019) (66'41")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/NL; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

anon: Magnificat 4. tonia; Preludium 4. toni; Thomas BABOU (1656-1739): Tantum ergoa; Lambert CHAUMONT (c1630-1712): Suite du 6e ton [2] & Henry DU MONT (1610-1684): Messe Royale du 6e tona [1]; Hubert RENOTTE (1694-1745): Pièces de clavecin composées par Monsieur Renotte; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Magnificat 7. toni (WV 65)a; Johann Georg SCHÜBLER (c1720-1755): Fugue in g minor; Cornelius Franciscus VAN MEERT (c1735-?): Morceau fugué

Sources: [1] Henry du Mont, Cinq messes en plain-chant, composées et dédiées aux révérends pères de la Mercy du Couvent de Paris, 1669 [2] Lambert Chaumont, Pièces d'orgue sur les 8 tons, op. 2, 1695

This disc is one of three devoted to organs and organ music from the Liège region in present-day Belgium. They are part of a PhD research programme that will be concluded this year (2019). The organist, Luc Ponet, is the inspector of art education (academies of music and conservatories) for the Flemish community. Furthermore, he is the city organist of Leuven and organist-titular of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Tongeren.

Politically, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège took a special place. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and was never part of the Southern Netherlands or, previously, the Burgundian, Spanish, or Austrian Netherlands. Due to its central position between France, the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire, there was a continous exchange of knowledge, art and culture between Liège and the various parts of Europe. It was, as the liner-notes state, "a melting pot for musical influences" from across Europe. That comes to the fore in the musical practices in the Liège region and that is reflected in the way the programme of this disc has been put together.

Luc Ponet plays the two organs in the Basilica of Tongeren, a town northwest of Liège, and part of the Bishopric. The large organ was originally built by Philippe Le Picard, who was from a dynasty of organ builders which had its roots in Amiens. The organ dates from 1750, but due to the many adaptations to the taste of the time during the 19th and early 20th centuries, little of the original instrument has been preserved. From 1997 to 2002 the organ was entirely restored and reconstructed, on the basis of a thorough investigation of the tradition of organ building in the Liège region. The other organ is a so-called 'swallow's nest' organ, which was built in 2014 by the Belgian firm Thomas. This instrument is rooted in the tradition of German organ building of the baroque period.

The programme played by Ponet is inspired by the alternatim practice, which was and is one of the features of Catholic liturgy. French composers of the 17th and 18th centuries published books with organ pieces which today are often performed separately, out of their liturgical context. However, such pieces were intended for liturgical use, and it is nice that here that kind of repertoire is performed as it was intended.

The disc opens with the Suite du 6e ton by Lambert Chaumont, a composer born in Liège who was a priest and worked most of his life in Huy. It is part of a set of suites in the eight ecclesiastical modes, the only extant music by Chaumont. The liturgical chants are taken from the mass in the same mode by Henry Du Mont, who was born near Hasselt, north-west of Liège, where he may have studied with Léonard de Hodemont. His large oeuvre includes a set of five masses in plainchant, the last of which is that in the 6th tone.

Next is a Magnificat 4. toni by an unknown composer, taken from the so-called Tongeren Organ Manuscript, which dates from 1626 and was discovered fairly recently. It is preceded by an anonymous prelude in the same tone from a manuscript dated 1618, preserved in the British Museum. According to the track-list the vocal sections of the Magnificat are by Orlandus Lassus. However, we only hear plainchant, and this may be taken from an alternatim setting by Lassus, but it is certainly not from his pen. Therefore I omitted Lassus's name from the header.

With a suite by Hubert Renotte we hear the organ in a different role. The four pieces are intended for the harpsichord. This is no liturgical music, but chamber music. Renotte was born and died in Liège; from 1735 until his death he worked as organist at St Lambert Cathedral. His harpsichord pieces are written in the galant idiom which was becoming increasingly popular in his time.

Another composer born in Liège was Thomas Babou. He was also an organist by profession; at least from 1687 to 1704 he acted as such at the church of St Jean l'Evangeliste. The Tantum ergo attests to a development in organ music comparable with what happened in France: an increasing influence of secular music and a reduction of the role of counterpoint. This piece comprises only three short verses; the prélude takes just 19 seconds. Between the second and third verse, the schola sings the plainchant version of Tantum ergo with organ accompaniment.

For the last item Luc Ponet moves to the swallow's nest organ, and here he turns to German repertoire. The alternatim practice was still common in the early days of Lutheranism. In the oeuvre of organists of the North-German organ school we find a number of pieces intended for this practice, among them Heinrich Scheidemann's Magnificat 7. toni. It is embraced by two fugues by German composers of about 100 years later, which is a little odd. Interesting is the first of these, the Fugue in g minor by Johann Georg Schübler, who published Bach's Schübler Chorales. For this fugue he used the same theme as Bach in his fugue BWV 578.

This disc is the last of the three; the previous ones I have not heard yet. It is an interesting recording which not only documents liturgical practices of the 18th century and the role of the organ in them, but also repertoire from the Liège region that is little known. The names of Chaumont, Renotte and Babou don't turn up that often in recordings of organ music. Although largely reconstructed, the Le Picard organ is a very fine instrument, which is well worth being documented on disc. One also has to compliment the Thomas firm for the creation of such a fine instrument that is well suited to German baroque repertoire. Luc Ponet is an excellent performer who explores the possibilities of the respective instruments for an 'authentic' interpretation of the selected pieces. The Schola Gregoriana Feminea sings well, but the miking could have been closer. There is too much difference in volume between the organ and the plainchant.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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