This disc consists of organ verses and
hymns composed on plainsong melodies by one of the most extraordinary
musicians of renaissance France, Jean Titelouze.
The booklet, which is, as ever with
Harmonic Records, excellently presented, has a very neatly translated
essay on this colourful figure by Claude Noissette de Crouzat.
There is also an essay on the Dallam family of organ builders
who, incidentally, haled from England and whose instruments
can be found in Cambridge and Oxford as well as in France. The
organ is described and its restoration, completed in time for
this recording, is carefully explained. The stops and registration
are set out - both the original work and the new and the instrument’s
history is listed. To cap it off there is a good colour photo
of the organ at back of the booklet. So as you can see, everything
is well presented. The texts are given on different coloured
paper but not translated from the Latin.
A typical Titelouze composition is exemplified
by the first work on the CD, the hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’: Opening
plainsong intonation, one line of text followed by verse on
the organ with plainchant in the bass in long notes. This takes
the place of the text for the rest of verse 1. Second verse:
voices a capella in four parts - melody in tenor. Verse
3: solo voice singing plainsong in broken phrases with a contrapuntal
organ part. I refrain from saying 'accompaniment' as the organ
music dominates. Next verse, a capella in four parts
answered by the organ verse. Verse 4: a capella in four
parts answered by the organ - in this interpretation played
forte on trumpet stops ending with a polyphonic A-men.
The average length of such a work would be approximately 9 minutes.
The setting by Monteverdi of ‘Ave Maris
Stella’ found in the Vespers of 1610 must be exactly contemporary
with Titelouze so you will recognize the format. But whereas
Monteverdi is most definitely early baroque in sound, Titelouze
remains anchored in the renaissance, indeed for me, the early
renaissance when figures like John Redford and William Blithemann
were active (c.1530) and writing organ masses. Another even
more archaic approach can be heard in the ‘Pange lingua’ where
there is no four-part vocal writing but only plainsong interspersed
with the organ verses.
The venue for these recordings seems
to me to be ideal. The organ is a versatile and at times a gloriously
brazen instrument. I particularly liked the ‘trompette’ stop
and the more subtle ‘flute de 4 pieds’. The performers who are
all regulars on this record label and exemplary in their knowledge
and experience in all aspects of medieval music are set back
from the organ acoustically which seems sensible. The superb
recording which is now over 10 years old is nothing less than
ideal, capturing the instrument and as it were the building,
although a little more resonance would have pleased me even
more. Jean-Charles Ablitzer who carries the main work on the
CD has the difficulty of having to keep the listeners' attention
in the long organ verses. Mercifully he keeps the tempo moving
but allows the counterpoint to speak. He also varies the registration
- often starting and ending with the reed stops. This is harder
music to play well than one might originally imagine. Each leading
voice part in the texture needs clarity and focus. It is a credit
to his imagination and musicianship that he achieves all of
this and more.
One gem from the life of Titelouze to
end with; he was an interesting character who wrote terrible
poetry (at least that is the verdict of the booklet writer),
I quote: "What? The mighty organ with its choirlike tone/
Echoes in reply, a hymn rising / to reward the one who sings
the best". Surely an accurate description of the music
heard in Rouen Cathedral when Titelouze flourished there in
the late 16th Century.