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François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Messe à l’Usage des Paroisses [52:36]
Messe à l’Usage des Couvents [43:38]
Aude Heurtematte (organ)
rec. Église de St Gervais, Paris, February 2004. DDD
ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT090403 [52:36 + 43:38]
Experience Classicsonline

There is an immediacy and warmth to this disc set, which belies its rather cerebral appearance. The intention was to record the two organ masses which Couperin specially composed at the age of 22 for use in parish churches on religious feast days (CD 1) and in the churches and chapels of religious houses (CD 2). Both works are appropriately played on the organ of St Gervais in Paris, where not only François but also his father Charles, uncle Louis, cousin Nicolas and second cousin Armand-Louis held the post of organist.

Soloist Aude Heurtematte, herself resident organist at St Gervais since 1989, gives a heartfelt and skilled reading of both masses. Their 21 short movements were designed to be played alternately with sung plainchant sections of the mass, except for the Credo, which was sung only, and the Offertory, during which the organ played alone. Plainchant melodies were required to be played in these movements, although organists and composers like Couperin were relatively free to weave variations and improvisations into the music. What we are left with is a valuable record of the splendour of religious music during the Grand Siècle at one of Paris’s most important churches. Among the solid plainchant we can enjoy complex contrapuntal devices, reflective meditations, concertante orchestral effects, strident fanfares and even popular dance rhythms.

Of the two CDs, the first (Messe à l’Usage des Paroisses) is the more substantial. Perhaps mindful of his position in St Gervais - which at the time employed 120 priests and other clerics and included Madame de Sévigné among its congregation - Couperin invested this mass with grander gestures and more sophisticated writing. Take for instance the playful dialogue of the Duo sur les Tierces (track 8), the glassy tone and reflective beauty of the Tierce en Taille (track 11), and choral joy of the Dialogue sur le Grands Jeux (track 20).

The second CD (Messe à l’Usage des Couvents) is more subdued and understated - more appropriate to the contemplative nature of convent worship. But this mass too has its moments. The Duo sur les Tierces (track 8) is a lively, witty conversational piece. The more extensive Offertoire (track 15), meanwhile, is a jubilant expression of faith, with catchy dance patterns. This disc set will undoubtedly appeal to specialists and connoisseurs of church and organ music. But even listeners with a loose interest in the French Baroque should give it a try.

John-Pierre Joyce

























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