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"Dans les temps de révolutions - Noëls pour orgue de Louis XV à Louis-Philippe"

Nicolas Bucher, organ

rec: [n.d.], Lens (Pas-de-Calais, F), Eglise Saint-Léger
Hortus - 149 (© 2017) (68'24")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Jacques BEAUVARLET-CHARPENTIER (1734-1794): Noël en Grand-Choeur (Laissez paître vos bêtes) [2]; Noël en Grand-Choeur (Votre bonté Grand Dieu) [2]; Noël pour un Elévation sur la Voix humaine [2]; Alexandre-Pierre-François BOËLY (1785-1858): Air de Noël avec pédale obligée [Vous qui désirez sans fin]; [Grâce soit rendue]; Messe du jour de Noël, op. 11 (Pastorale); Noël [O jour ton divin flambeau]; Noël à 2 clav. et ped. [Le roi des cieux vient de naître]; [Noël suisse: O Dieu de clémence]; [Une bergère jolie]; Gervais-François COUPERIN (1759-1826): [Pastorale]; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): Noël en Grand jeu et duo (X) [1]; Noël Etranger, sur les jeux d'anches, sans tremblant et en Duo (VIII) [1]; Noël sur les flûtes (IX) [1]; Guillaume LASCEUX (1740-1831): Chantons je vous prie - Nous sommes en voie (tambourin); Je me suis levé par un matinet; Joseph est bien marié; Une jeune fillette; Nicolas SÉJAN (1745-1819) (attr): À la venue de Noël; Chantons je vous prie; Noël suisse

[1] Louis-Claude Daquin, Nouveau Livre de Noëls, 1757; [2] Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Douze Noëls variés pour l'Orgue avec un Carillon des morts qui se joue le Jour de la Toussaint après le Magnificat, 1782

The music written in the classical and early romantic periods is treated differently. The works of the masters from Vienna - Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert - takes a central place in the repertoire of many of today's performers, chamber ensembles and orchestras. In contrast, many composers active in cities as London and Paris receive far less attention. In the case of Paris some operas, for instance by Cherubini, are still performed, but overall the picture of the music in the years of the French Revolution and the time of the Restoration is rather negative. It is true that some composers wrote trivial stuff in order to show their adherence to the ideals of the Revolution, but it would be wrong to simply dismiss the entire repertoire as such. In particular the music for organ seems to have suffered from the generally negative assessment of these periods. Too often the works of the composers included in the programme recorded by Nicolas Bucher are compared to the heydays of organ music: the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th.

The programme opens with pieces by probably the last composer of the 'classical' French organ school. Louis-Claude Daquin was a child prodigy, playing as a harpsichordist for Louis XIV at the age of six and conducting a performance of a motet from his pen as an eight-year old. At the height of his career he became organist of the Chapelle Royale. He was known as a virtuosic improviser, and his Noëls, published in his Nouveau livre de noëls in 1757, testify to his art. They can be played at the organ or the harpsichord as well as with an ensemble of various instruments. They all follow the same structure: first the plain melody is disposed, and then we hear a series of variations.

Noëls were highly popular in France during the 18th century. They were mostly played during Midnight Mass at Christmas. Claude-Bénigne Balbastre was very famous for his improvisations of Noëls at St Roch: his playing attracted such huge crowds that in 1762 the archbishop forbade him to play. He is not represented here. Instead we get pieces from his lesser-known contemporary Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier. For many years he lived and worked in Lyon, but he also played the organ at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. In 1771 he became organist of St Victor in Paris. Like Daquin he published a set of twelve Noëls (1782), half of which on the same tunes as Daquin, and Nicolas Bucher, in his liner-notes, suggests that they may have been intended as a tribute to Daquin. That could also explain the similarity in style and structure.

Guillaume Lasceux is one of the better-known composers from the decades around 1800. He was already appointed organist at the age of 18 in Chevreuse, near Poissy. He later moved to Paris, where he worked as organist in several churches. Due to the Revolution he lost most of his positions, but from 1803 until his death he was able to play as organist of a church again. He published some variations on Noëls, but Bucher preferred to play some shorter, "one-page pieces", which can be considered genre pieces. The difference with the 'classical' repertoire comes to the fore, for instance, in the registrations Lasceux requires. In Chantons je vous prie he uses a tambourin, referring to the music of the countryside, which we also meet in much older French music.

Nicolas Séjan is the least-known composer in the programme. He was another child prodigy, like Daquin, who showed great enthusiasm, when he heard 13-year old Séjan's improvisation on the Te Deum. Séjan developed into an organ virtuoso, and played at the Concert Spirituel. He was another victim of the French Revolution, when he lost his positions. During the Terror he was able to save many organs from destruction. He played battle-pieces at republican celebrations in churches and in the Opéra. He is considered one of the founders of the modern French piano school. His oeuvre is rather small, and the three Noëls played here are of doubtful authenticity. Notable is his use of dynamics: often only a couple of notes within a phrase have to be played forte. This points in the direction of the 19th-century symphonic organ.

The piece called here Pastorale, by Gervais-François Couperin, the last composer from the famous musical dynasty, is written in pre-romantic style. Opinions on his qualities as a performer at the organ were divided. The German composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt called him "miserable. (...) An organist of that ilk has no business calling himself a Couperin...".

Alexandre-Pierre-François Boëly was a friend of his, and called him "a little rascal". He was educated at the organ, the pianoforte and the violin. It is notable that he studied the masters of the past, which resulted in a thorough knowledge of counterpoint. He was one of the first organists in France who promoted the organ works of Bach. That also comes to the fore in his own organ works, which Bucher calls "contrapuntal and preromantic". The last piece by him played here, called Noël suisse: O Dieu de clémence is fugal. The Pastorale from his Messe du jour de Noël is an arrangement of Laissez paître vos bêtes.

The organ Nicolas Bucher plays is an instrument which was inaugurated in 1988. Its construction is based on the organs of the 18th-century organ builders dynasty Cliquot, but includes also elements of organs from the early 19th century. That makes this instrument perfectly suited for the repertoire performed here. Nicolas Bucher is the titular organist and therefore has an intimahte knowledge of the instrument. He uses its features for a stylistically convincing interpretation. He avoids all trivial effects, and this way shows that at least some of the music written in the decades around 1800 deserves to be taken seriously. Noëls from this period in French music history are seldom recorded, and therefore this disc fills a gap in the discography. Organ lovers should not hesitate to add this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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