> Francois VERCKEN Lucernaire [AAS]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Francois VERCKEN
Lucernaire (Office of the Body and Blood of Christ)
Les Petits Chanteurs de Lyon/various instrumentalists/Jean-Francois Duchamp
Recording of a live performance given at a conference of L’Association Art d’Église in the church of St Jacques, Rheims, on 4 June 1994.
PAVANE RECORDS ADW 7331 [49.00]
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If ever an unfamiliar piece required detailed programme notes this essentially liturgical piece is one such: but the information supplied is scrappy in the extreme. Of the composer (born, at a guess, in the 1920s) we learn that he held a prominent position in French radio and has written predominantly religious music. The texts for Lucernaire were assembled by Didier Rimaud, a French Jesuit notable for ‘many fine hymns’ and other religious texts. The words of Lucernaire are printed only in French.

Lucernaire ‘is structured in the ancient tradition of an evening Office that takes place during the lighting of the lamps.’ It’s not, I fear, a ‘tradition’ I am familiar with: it seems to be loosely based on the Office of Vespers for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

The work was commissioned by L’Association Art d’Église whose object, we are told, is ‘to encourage the creation of quality contemporary art in places of worship’ and acts ‘with the approval of the French Church’. If so, and if the underlying purposes are to enhance the beauty of the liturgy, to create new sources of inspiration and to help revitalise the Christian church, then I despair. I have never heard such unremittingly dreary church music in my life (no doubt, however, as is the way when ‘experts’ and enthusiasts gather at their beloved conferences, it was hailed as a ‘significant work of our time’).

The bleak opening bars (sample 1) provide an ominous warning of the pain in store. Mostly written in a dense and dissonant idiom (violent brief note-clusters on organ frequently punctuate its flow), the work is totally devoid of rhythmic vitality and offers little melodic relief (save for one of its thirteen sections which is pure Gregorian chant). The longest section (at 10:00, Litanies d’Intercession) is at least tolerable (sample 2), though the material is not striking enough to sustain the inevitable repetitions of the litany form. The concluding Acclamation begins in a promising quasi-chorale style, but rapidly moves to a resumé of some of the work’s disagreeable features (sample 3).

The other day I heard a live performance of Stainer’s much-mocked The Crucifixion for the first time: no masterpiece, certainly, but in its emotional impact and devotional significance it leaves Lucernaire stranded in a world totally remote in my judgement from that of the average churchgoer.

Listening to the three samples (chosen at random) others may arrive at a different conclusion. Given that it was recorded live, the performance is pretty impressive, particularly by the ‘Chanteurs’ in their mastery of ungrateful vocal lines and elusive harmonies, and the sound quality more than adequate.

Adrian Smith



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