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"Écrire le temps - Grigny, Lebègue"

Nicolas Bucher, organ
Marion Tassou, sopranoa; Vicent Lièvre-Picard, tenorb; Ensemble Gilles Binchois (Dominique Vellard)c

rec: August 5 - 10, 2019, La Chaise-Dieu (Haute-Loire), Abbatiale Saint-Robert
Hortus - 184 (2 CDs) (© 2020) (2.39'13"")
Liner-notes: E/F; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Grigny

Nicolas DE GRIGNY (1672-1703): A solis ortus; Ave maris stella; Messe; Pange lingua; Point d'orgue; Veni Creator; Verbum supernum; Nicolas LEBÈGUE (1631-1702): Ave verum corpusa; Motet pour le Saint-Esprita; Pange linguab; Salve Reginab; plainchantc: Domine praevenisti, gradual; Laetatum est cor meum, introit

Sources: Nicolas Lebègue, Motets pour les principales festes de l'année, 1687; Nicolas de Grigny, Premier livre d'orgue contenant une messe et les hymnes des principalles festes de l'année, 1699

[EGB] Emmanuel Vistorky, David Witczak, Cyril costanzo, Sébastien Brohier

The set of discs under review here brings together two composers who are ranked among the main organists of their time in France. The youngest of them, Niolas de Grigny, left just one book of organ pieces, comprising music for the mass and for five hymns as well as a separate piece, called Point d'orgue. As was so often the case, he followed in his father's footsteps. The latter was organist at Rheims Cathedral; Nicolas's grandfather and an uncle were also active as organists. In the late 1680s and early 1690s he was a pupil of Nicolas Lebègue, one of the organists of the Chapelle Royale. From 1693 to 1695 he was organist of the abbey church of St Denis, where the rulers of France were buried. From 1697 until his early death in 1703 he acted as organist at Rheims Cathedral. In 1699 he published his Premier livre d'orgue contenant une messe et les hymnes des principalles festes de l'année. The title suggests that more was to come, but his death prevented that happening.

His organ pieces are often performed separately, but as they were intended for the alternatim practice, plainchant plays a major role. Grigny obeyed the instructions of the ecclesiastical authorities that the melodies of the planchant should be clearly recognizable in the first verse of each section of the mass. He also used material from plainchant in the remaining verses. In his hymns he largely follows the same procedure. The five hymns included in his organ book are connected to various feasts through the ecclesiastical year. Veni Creator is for Whitsun, Pange lingua and Verbum Supernum for Corpus Christi, Ave maris stella for Assumption and A solis ortus for Christmas.

Nicolas Bucher recorded the complete oeuvre of Grigny, and decided to include the plainchant verses. They are sung by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, directed by Dominique Vellard. The chant is taken from historical sources. In addition to the verses of the Ordinary, the performance opens with an introit, Laetatum est cor meum. Between the Gloria and the Offertoire sur les grands jeux (Grigny did omit the Credo), the ensemble sings the gradual Domine praevenisti. Both these pieces are taken from sources from Rheims.

It is in the hymns that we meet Nicolas Lebègue. He was born in Laon; we know nothing about his early education, and we also don't know when he moved to Paris. His reputation must have risen quickly as in 1661 he was already called "the famous organist from Paris". The only post he is known to have held is that of organist of St Merri, from 1664 until his death. In 1678 he became one of the four organistes du Roi, alongside Nivers, Thomelin and Buterne. He was not only famous as an organist, but also as a composer, a teacher and an expert in organ building. He often advised church authorities across the country when a new organ was to be built. Among his pupils we find some famous organists of the next generation, such as François Dagincourt, Nicolas Geoffroy, and, as we already noted, Grigny.

Lebègue's oeuvre comprises virtually only music for keyboard. He published three books of organ pieces and two with pieces for harpsichord. In addition some keyboard works have been preserved in manuscript. The only extant vocal works are a collection of motets for the main feasts of the ecclesiastical year for solo voice and basso continuo, which was published in 1687. From this collection the four motets included here are taken. They are performed either as alternatim piece or as an addition in four of the hymns. Unfortunately, the booklet omits the lyrics. As the penultimate section in Veni Creator, Marion Tassou sings Lebègue's Motet pour le Saint-Esprit, and to conclude Verbum supernum Lebègue's Ave verum corpus. The hymn Pange lingua is followed by Lebègues setting of this text, and Ave maris stella is concluded by his setting of Salve Regina. Both are sung by Vincent Lièvre-Picard. The last hymn, A solis ortus cardine, is followed by the Point d'orgue. The track-list suggests that this is part of the hymn, but that is not the case; it is rather an independent piece.

As the style of playing and the singing of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois is rooted in historical performance practice, and the plainchant is taken from historical sources, one may be a bit disappointed that Bucher decided to play a modern organ, dating from 1995 and built by Michel Garnier. He looked for some specific qualities, which this instrument has, "but without bearing the particular stamp of the 17th or 18th centuries". However, the lover of French organ music does not need to worry too much. It is a fine instrument, and in combination with an interpreter who is well versed in the style of the composer and his time, it does full justice to Grigny's organ works. This large instrument is also played in the basso continuo of the four motets. That is a substantial improvement in comparison with performances with a small positive organ. We should also be grateful that these motets are performed. I wonder whether they are available in other recordings. I can't remember ever having heard them. Vincent Lièvre-Picard has a lovely voice and sings very well. It is a shame that Marion Tassou's performances are damaged by a pretty large vibrato. The Ensemble Gilles Binchois is excellent; the text is clearly understandable.

Because of the concept of this disc and the inclusion of four motets by Lebègue, even those who have another recording of Grigny's mass in their collection, may well consider adding this set

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Vincent Lièvre-Picard
Marion Tassou
Ensemble Gilles Binchois

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