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Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Messe a l'usage ordinaire des paroisses, pour les fêtes solemnelles: Kyrie [9'45]; Gloria [21'04]; Offertoire [8'45]; Sanctus [2'10]; Benedictus [3'33]; Agnus Dei [4'44]; Deo Gratias [1'07]
Messe propre pour les couvents de Réligieux, et Réligieuses: Kyrie [9'37]; Gloria [17'07]; Offertoire [5'51]; Sanctus [1'39]; Elevation [3'15]; Agnus Dei [2'43]; Deo Gratias [0'57]
Jean-Baptiste Robin, organ
rec: Poitiers Cathedral, 24-26 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557741-42 [52'06 + 41'58]

The 'authentic' performance of the great French Classical organ repertoire, generally considered to have peaked with the music of Couperin and de Grigny, on an 'authentic' instrument is, unfortunately, more or less an impossibility. During the 18th century the organ style developed; 16' reed stops appeared in both manual and pedal; Couperin of course had no pedal 16 stop at all, the number of reeds increases in general, (The Positif de Dos also has a Trompette, The Grand Orgue 2, and 2 Clairons), the Gros Nasard appears, the Gros Tierce becomes more common. By the time the last member of the great French organ building family Clicquot, Francois-Henri, had completed his masterpiece in Poitiers Cathedral in 1790, one hundred years had elapsed since Couperin had written his organ masses. And while the organ building tradition in France in the 18th century is certainly a developing one, rather than a diverging one, some aesthetic grey-area is inevitable. At the end of the day this is the music of the sun-king played on an organ of the revolution. An interesting parallel will be very familiar to harpsichordists used to playing and hearing the music of Couperin on the instruments (and their countless copies) of Taskin.

But unfortunately the best-preserved baroque organs in France are those of the late 18th century. And of those perhaps the finest is the Poitiers Clicquot. The sound is difficult to describe, the reeds are just so fine, the Pleins Jeux so sophisticated; this is the organ-building from the end of a great era, just forty years later Cavaillé-Coll would complete his first masterpiece in St Denis! And while this is not the organ Couperin knew, it is a seductive vehicle for his music. The young titulaire of Poitiers, Jean-Baptiste Robin, a former student of Alain, Latry and Robilliard, proves as much with strong, supple and supremely musical performances. The masses are presented without the accompanying Gregorian chant, "to highlight the purely musical content, rather than attempt a liturgical reconstruction" as Robin writes.

The organ is one of the greatest in Europe, the playing is fabulous, the price is meagre. Buy this without a moment's hesitation.

Chris Bragg

see also review by Ian Bailey



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