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Jehan TITELOUZE (1563-1633)
Hymns (Ave Maris Stella; Pange Lingua; Veni Creator; Conditor Alme siderum; A solis ortis; Exsultet Coelum) and a Magnificat on the sixth tone played on the historic organ by Thomas Dallam
Jean-Charles Ablitzer with verses and polyphony performed by Gerard Lesne, Josep Benet, Josep Cabre and Malcolm Bothwell
Recorded at the Church of Saint-Miliau, Guimiliau, Finisterre, November 1990
HARMONIC RECORDS HCD 9037 [58.58]

 

Experience Classicsonline

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.

Gary Higginson

 



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