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Benoît MERNIER (born 1964)
Missa Christi Regis Gentium (2000)a
Inventions pour orgue (2000/1)b
Choeur de chambre de Namura; Capella Sancti Michaelisa; Xavier Deprez (organ)a; Olivier Opdebeek (conductor)a;
Benoît Mernier (organ)b
Recorded: Brussels Cathedral, November and December 2000 (Missa) and July 2001 (Inventions)
CYPRÈS CYP 4612 [62:58]


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Benoît Mernierís Missa Christi Regis Gentium, completed in 2000, was commissioned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Messe des Artistes, an annual event held in Brussels Cathedral. The project also allowed the composer to exploit the full range of the recently inaugurated new organ built by Gerhard Grenzing. (Benoît Mernier is also an excellent organist - heard here as the performer of his Five Inventions.)

The Mass, an ambitious large-scale work, sets the ordinary mass without the Credo. The Kyrie is built as a big crescendo-decrescendo discreetly accompanied by the organ. The middle section Christe Eleison, and the climax of the movement, is rhythmically more complex and seems to use some controlled aleatoric techniques to telling effect. The much longer Gloria is more varied with several organ soli interspersed all through the rendering of the text, and alternates jubilant and meditative episodes, while the writing for voices is more varied and rather complex from the rhythmical viewpoint. The Sanctus calls for a double chorus and both choral groups either echo each other or join forces. Again rhythmically complex since the choirs and the organ often play at different tempi. The Benedictus is sung by eight female voices that sing some sort of Klangfarben melody imparting this beautiful section with a fascinating angelic tone. In the Sanctus-Benedictus, the organ is confined to a rather discreet accompanying role. In the final Agnus Dei, however, the organ has the leading role and the whole section is more like a big organ solo, this time interspersed with choral episodes. The Agnus Dei, and the whole Mass, ends as it began: in utter serenity. The Mass is a beautiful, superbly crafted, sometimes intricate but always accessible work of considerable substance. It definitely deserves wider exposure, and I hope that this excellent performance will prompt crack choirs to investigate this magnificent piece.

As already mentioned, Benoît Mernier is a brilliant organist who already has several recordings to his credit. However, Five Inventions, written over the period 2000-2001, is his first major work for his instrument. (The First Invention was played during the first performance of the Mass, and this is Ė I think Ė the first complete performance of the whole set.) As might be expected, Mernier sets out to explore the organís range in five pieces of markedly different character, whether linear or contrapuntal, straightforward or more complex and demanding. The Fifth Invention, drawing on elements from the preceding ones, is a powerful, grand synthesis of the whole set. A major organ work, and hopefully the first in a long series to come.

I recently reviewed a first CD (CYPRÈS CYP 4613) devoted to Mernierís orchestral and instrumental music. The present release is also most welcome as it offers two substantial works signposting Mernierís musical progress over the last few years. They amply confirm that he is one of the most endearing composers of his generation.

Hubert Culot


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