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"Musique française des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles"

Benjamin Alard, organa; Thomas Van Essen, baritoneb; Marie Rouquié, violinc; Julie Léonard, viola da gambad

rec: April 19 & 21 2009, Saint-Ouen (Pont-Audemer)
Hortus - 076 (© 2010) (51'53")

Jacques BOYVIN: Suite du 7e tona [2]; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Salve Regina des Jésuites (H 27)ab; François COUPERIN (1668-1733), arr Benjamin Alard: La Sultane, Sonade en quatuora; Jean-François LALLOUETTE (1651-1728): Domine salvum fac regem (Motet pour le Roy)ab [3]; O mysterium ineffabile (Motet pour le très Saint Sacrement)ab [3]; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Sonata VIII in D, [op. 2],8acd [4]; Jehan TITELOUZE (c1553-1633): Hymne Ave maris stella [1]a

(Sources: [1] Jehan Titelouze, Hymnes de l'Eglise pour toucher sur l'orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant, 1623; [2] Jacques Boyvin, Premier livre d’orgue contenant les huit tons à l’usage ordinaire de l’Eglise, 1689-90; [3] Jean-François Lallouette, Motets livre premier, 1726; [4] Jean-Marie Leclair, Second livre de sonates, c1728)

The French organ of the 17th and 18th century is mostly referred to as the 'classical' organ, in contrast to the symphonic instruments of the 19th and 20th centuries. This type of organ is far less known than German organs of the same period, and so is the music written for it. It is also very different from the instruments built elsewhere in Europe. Only in the Southern Netherlands - present-day Belgium - organs of this kind were built, and some German organ makers in the time of Bach took over some elements of the French classical organ.

The organ which is at the centre of this recording is of an unknown date. In a document from 1663 an organist is mentioned but otherwise there is no evidence whatsoever about the builder or the time it was constructed. The pipework contains elements from the 16th to the 19th century. As with so many organs it was adapted to contemporary taste in the 19th century and even as late as 1954. In 1995 it was restored to its 18th-century state and the renovated instrument was inaugurated in 2000. On this disc we hear this organ in several capacities, also reflecting the changes in liturgical music.

The disc opens with the hymn Ave maris stella by Jehan Titelouze. He was the first important composer of organ music in France. Born in St Omer he moved to Rouen in 1585, which was an important centre of organ building, and in 1588 he was appointed organist of the Cathedral, a position he held until his death. He was renowned for his skills in improvisation, and a piece like this hymn, written for the alternatim practice, very likely reflects those skills. In the first and third verset the plainchant melody is used as cantus firmus in the bass, whereas the second and fourth versets are fugues.

In comparison the Suite du 7e ton by Jacques Boyvin is very different. Interestingly Boyvin also was organist at the Cathedral in Rouen, from 1674 until his death. The suite played here is from a book of eight suites for organ in the eight church modes. This music doesn't have a specific liturgical function, but could be used ad libitum, according to whatever the organist needed. From about the middle of the 17th century suites like this contained specific indications in regard to registration, and this reflects the way the French classical organ had developed. Despite minor differences most organs were more or less of the same structure and had the same disposition. The titles of the various pieces of this Suite refer to the stops of the organ, like basse de trompette and fond d'orgue ou Concert de flûtes. And even if no specific stop was mentioned, some conventions had been established as when to use which stops.

The rest of the programme is devoted to the organ as a basso continuo instrument. Today church music of the baroque period is mostly performed with a small organ playing the basso continuo part. But in the 17th and 18th centuries it was normally the large organ which was used to realise the basso continuo, like in the cantatas by Bach. On this disc three motets are sung by Thomas Van Essen, with Benjamin Alard playing the basso continuo at the organ of Saint Ouen. Marc-Antoine Charpentier was the most Italian-orientated of all French composers of the late 17th century. The full title of his Salve Regina refers to the Jesuits. This indicates that this piece was written to be sung at the Jesuit church of Saint Louis, where Charpentier acted as music director in the 1680s and 1690s. It is scored for tenor and bc, so it is probably transposed down in this recording.

The other two motets are by Jean-François Lallouette, a contemporary of Charpentier. He was a pupil of Lully and started his career as a time-beater at the Opéra. From 1700 to 1716 he was choirmaster of Notre Dame in Paris, where he succeeded André Campra. O mysterium ineffabile is a motet for Holy Sacrament, whereas the motet Domine, salvum fac regem (O Lord, save our king) was included in any service, referring to the King of France.

Keyboard arrangements of instrumental pieces, both chamber music and dances in operas, were quite common in France around 1700. Mostly they are played at the harpsichord, but here the sonata La Sultane by François Couperin is played at the organ. It does sound well, but this kind of repertoire was not played in church. The same is true of the Sonata VIII in D for violin and bc by Leclair. Apart from the fact that an organ in the basso continuo part of a sonata like this is a little odd anyway, this again is not music which was played in church.

Benjamin Alard is a brilliant keyboard player who started to win prizes at the age of just 19. Now, at 25, he has already an impressive discography. He plays the organ as well as he plays the harpsichord, and the pieces by Titelouze and Boyvin are given fine interpretations. In the motets the organ works well as a basso continuo instrument, but in Leclair's sonata it is too powerful and too dominant. Thomas Van Essen sings beautifully, and uses the historical correct pronunciation of Latin. Marie Rouqué and Julien Léonard are expressive in Leclair's sonata, and I hope to hear them in other music under more favourable circumstances.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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