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Nicolas LEBÈGUE (1631 - 1702): "Organ Works"

Albert Bolliger, organ

rec: [n.d.], Bordeaux, Sainte-Croixa; Caudebec-en-Caux, Notre-Dameb; La Flèche, Église Saint-Louis du Prytanée National Militairec; Poitiers, Saint-Pierred; Rozay-en-Brie, Collégialee; Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, Abbayef
Sinus - SIN 9001 (R) (© 2013) (72'01")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Elévation in d minora [3]; Elévation in Gc [3]; Elévation in Ge [3]; Elévation pour la voux humained [3]; Les Clochesa [3]; Magnificat du 6e tone [2]; Noël Cette journéef [3]; Noël Laissez paistre vos bestesf [3]; Noël Les Bourgeoises de Chatree [3]; Noël On s'en vont ces gays bergersa [3]; Noël Or nous ditte Marief [3]; Noël Puer nobis nasciturd [3]; Noël Une vierge pucellea [3]; Offertoire in B flatf [3]; Offertoire sur le Stabat matera [3]; Simphonie in Ca [3]; Simphonie in Dc [3]; Simphonie in Gb [3]; Simphonie in B flatd [3]; Suite du 2e tonb [1]

[1] Les pièces d'orgue, 1676; [2] Second livre d'orgue, 1678?; [3] Troisième livre d'orgue, 1685?

French organ music of the baroque era is a relatively unknown quantity, even among organ aficionados. The main reason seems to be the fact that this repertoire is so closely connected to French organs of the period that its features hardly come off on organs of a different type. A considerable part of the repertoire was also written for performance during the liturgy, and not every single piece can stand on its own feet. However, in the last decades of the 17th century composers started to include pieces which had no obvious liturgical function. These were the beginning of the 'secularisation' of French organ music. One of the first to compose such pieces was Nicolas Lebègue, especially in his third book which is the main subject of the recording by the Swiss organist Albert Bolliger.

Lebègue 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 Nicolas de Grigny, François Dagincourt and Nicolas Geoffroy.

In his capacity as a composer he wrote some sacred music which is partly lost. The main part of his oeuvre comprises keyboard music: two books with harpsichord pieces and three books with organ music were printed in a relatively short space of time, between 1676 and probably 1687. Some keyboard works have come down to us in manuscript. The first organ book includes eight suites which are technically demanding and require a large organ. Lebègue was an innovator, for instance in the greater independance of the pedal part. He moves away from the strictly contrapuntal style which was dominant in his time. He also introduced some new forms based on specific combinations of registers, such as the récit en taille and the trio à deux dessus. The second book comprises strictly liturgical music which explains that it is technically less complicated. The third book consists of a mixture of liturgical works (Offertoires and Elévations) and music which was rather intended for public concerts, such as Noëls, Symphonies and Les cloches. The latter is a character piece as it would become popular after the turn of the century. The choice from the three books is a little one-sided: Bolliger has concentrated on the third book; from each of the other two books we get just one piece.

Although this disc has not been released in this form before it is strictly speaking a reissue. Bolliger is recording a series of discs on historical French organs. Those who have collected them can ignore this disc which is a compilation from that series. That should have been mentioned in the booklet or on the rear inlay, but is not.

We hear six different organs, some of which in just two pieces. Most of them are quite large as most of Lebègues works require. The largest is the instrument in the Sainte-Croix in Bordeaux, originally built by Dom Bedos. It has five manuals and pedal and 47 stops. Unfortunately the booklet omits any details about the organs, the disposition or the registration used in the various pieces. There is also no information about the temperament which is quite an essential item. At least some of the organs seem to be tuned in meantone temperament which was the standard at the time.

Bolliger generally plays these works well. I was especially pleased by the Suite du 2e ton from the first book, and Les Cloches also receives a fine performance, with an effective use of the pedal of the organ in Bordeaux. Now and then I found his playing a bit awkward and stiff, but that doesn't diminish my positive impression of this compilation. Although the selection of pieces is hardly representative this is an interesting and compelling portrait of one of the most important composers of organ music under the ancien régime.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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