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"Pierre Attaingnant - Jeux d'orgue et de voix"

Jean-Patrice Brosse, organa; Vox Cantoris (Jean-Christophe Candau)b

rec: Sept & Nov 2011, Lavedan (Haute-Pyrénées)a & La Réole (Gironde), Église Saint-Pierreb
Psalmus - PSAL 015 (© 2012) (67'38")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Kyrie Cunctipotensab; Magnificat du 4e tonab; Praeludiuma; 2 Préludes aux 13 motetsa; Prélude aux 13 motetsa; Prélude sur chacun tona; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445-1518): O vos omnes (motetb and organ transcriptiona); Antoine DE FÉVIN (c1470-1511/12): Sancta Trinitas (motetb and organ transcriptiona); Mathieu GASCONGNE (before 1502-1552): Bone Jesu dulcissime (motetb and organ transcriptiona); Jean (Pierre?) DE LAFAGE (LAFARGE?) (fl 1518-1530)*: Aspice Domine (motetb and organ transcriptiona); Jacob OBRECHT (1457/58-1505): Parce Domine (motetb and organ transcriptiona); Claudin DE SERMISY (c1490-1562): Si bona suscepimus (motetb and organ transcriptiona)
(*) The booklet gives Pierre de LaFage as the composer's name, in New Grove (ed. 2003) he is called Jean de LaFarge

Renato Criscuolo, celloa, cello piccolob; Luca Marzetti, violonec, double bassd; Michele Carreca, theorboe; Alberto Bagnai, harpsichordf, organg

The man in the title of this disc, Pierre Attaingnant, was not a composer but a printer, and a very important one at that. His first publication dates from 1525 and many followed; when he died in 1551 the number of volumes printed by Attaingnant was no fewer than 174. His widow continued his business and printed seven more books, comprising more than 1,000 pieces. This disc concentrates on three books with liturgical keyboard music which were published in 1531. Although he was just a printer, that doesn't exclude the possibility that he himself contributed to the form in which the music was published. Many editions include arrangements, and it is mostly not known who exactly is responsible for them. One of the volumes from which the music for this disc is chosen comprises organ transcriptions of motets, and it may be Attaingnant himself who acted as the arranger.

At the time of publication the organ played an important role in the liturgy. It had largely three functions which are reflected in the programme. Firstly, it played preludes which introduced the motet which was to be sung. Secondly, it was involved in the performance of liturgical chant, in alternation with the choir. This disc includes two examples: the Magnificat du 4ème ton and the Kyrie Cunctipotens. Lastly, the organ played transcriptions of vocal pieces, especially motets. On this disc various pieces can be heard in two versions: first the organ transcription and then the original vocal form.

The word 'transcription' is not quite correct: these pieces are more than just a literal transposition of the notes of the various voices to the organ. In the organ version there are additional notes, in the form of ornaments, and also transitional passages which link various sections of a motet. In his liner-notes the director of Vox Cantoris, Jean-Christophe Candau, states that these transcriptions provide interesting information in regard to performance practice. "Whereas in singing, the ornamentation does not appear on the score and is improvised, it is entirely written out in organ music. We therefore studied the divisions (ornamentation procedure) and other grace-notes proposed by Attaingnant to inspire us in our singing and find the soul of music that exceeds the performer".

There are two aspects of this recording which makes it even more valuable. Firstly, in the Magnificat du 4ème ton the vocal verses are performed with faux-bourdons. These are also from a historical source. "What a pleasant surprise we had, a few years ago, finding a group of faux-bourdons on the eight church tones, written carelessly on a few sheets at the end of a 16th-century collection of some thirty three-part love songs!". They were written by Jean du Moulin, master of the children's choir at the church in Sens. The Kyrie Cunctipotens is taken from the 16th-century Roman gradual Cenomanense of 1515 which is now in the French National Library. This version includes tropes, additional texts to the traditional Kyrie chant.

Another interesting aspect is the choice of the organ. It was built in 1557 by Antoine Riballier and had eight stops. It was abandoned during the French Revolution and at the end of the 19th century it was completely ruined. It was not until the 1970s that a restoration was planned, under the instigation of the renowned organist Xavier Darasse. Between 1994 and 1996 a restoration was carried out by the organ builders Alain Sals and Charles Henry. The result is a rather small but magnificent organ that is perfectly suited to the repertoire on this disc. Its pitch is a=465 Hz and it is tuned in meantone temperament. The booklet indicates that the recording was made in two different venues. I assume that the sung items have been recorded in La Réole. There is no difference in the acoustic and there is a complete unity between the organ pieces and the vocal works.

Jean-Patrice Brosse is a specialist in early music and delivers an excellent account of the organ pieces. The members of Vox Cantoris, standing in a half circle around the choirbook, adopt historical pronunciation. The tempi are mostly moderate. They achieve considerable transparency which allows one to follow the various lines in the music.

This disc offers a highly fascinating account of the liturgical practices in early 16th-century France.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Jean-Patrice Brosse
Vox Cantoris

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