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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Christmas at Weissenau
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)

Noël 10 [05:51]
Noël 2 [06:15]
Noël 8 (Noël étranger) [03:38]
Noël 9 (Noël sur les flûtes) [08:01]
Guillaume LASCEUX (1740-1831)

Simphonie concertante [07:00]
Jean-Jacques BEAUVARLET-CHARPENTIER (1734-1794)

Quartetto [07:37]
Guillaume LASCEUX

Choeur en Simphonie [07:20]
Claude-Bénigne BALBASTRE (1727-1799)

Concert de flûte et de voix humaine [03:21]
Trio [04:29]
Ariete lante [04:50]
Nicolas SEJAN (1745-1819)

Noël suisse [09:15]
Ewald Kooiman, organ [Johann Nepomuk Holzhey, 1785-87]
Recorded August 25, 1994 in the Abbey of the White Canons, Weissenau, Germany ADD
CORONATA COR 1222 [62:39]


CONTACT DETAILS: KM-Records, Postbus 239, NL-2130 AE Hoofddorp

Presto Music
11 Park Street
Royal Leamington Spa
CV32 4QN
01926 317025

The title of this disc only partly correct: only about half of the programme has something to do with Christmas. This recording is mainly interesting in that it portrays the change in French organ music between the first half of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th. It is basically showing the history of the French organ from the 'classical' of the baroque to the 'symphonic' of the romantic era.

The pieces related to Christmas are all 'Noëls'. The singing of popular songs with Christmas goes back to the Middle Ages. These songs were non-liturgical, strophic and written in the vernacular. Through the liturgical plays they found their way into the church.

The 16th century saw a huge increase in the number of publications of 'Noëls'. And in the 17th century some composers used them in their works. The most famous example is the 'Messe de minuit' by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. At that time composers started to write variations on these popular Christmas songs. One of them was Louis-Claude Daquin. Although his Noëls could also be played by an ensemble of instruments or on harpsichord, the registration instructions demonstrate that they were originally intended to be played at the organ.

One of the highlights of the Christmas season was the Midnight Mass at Christmas Eve. In the Middle Ages the greater liturgical freedom of this event permitted the singing of popular Christmas songs, from the end of the 17th century organists used the occasion to play variations on 'Noëls'. This habit became hugely popular. When Claude-Bénigne Balbastre played his own 'Noëls en variations' at St Roch every year the performance attracted such a large number of people that in 1768 the archbishop forbade Balbastre to play.

In his time there was a general tendency to compose and play organ music in a more popular style. Charles Burney reports that Balbastre didn't hesitate to play even 'hunting pieces and jigs' between the verses of the Magnificat during service. And nobody seemed to be offended by that.

Apart from the emergence of a more popular style there was a general change in the composing of organ music. The performance of Haydn's symphonies in Paris had a strong impact on the style of composing. Organists started to write pieces in a more symphonic style, which is reflected on the disc by the works of Guillaume Lasceux and Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier. And when they composed ‘Noëls’, these were very different from those of the early 18th century, as the last piece on this disc, the ‘Noël suisse’ by Séjan, shows.

From the end of the 18th century on organ music was less and less connected to liturgy. After 1789, the year of the French revolution, some organists - like Beauvarlet-Charpentier – even composed organ works on 'revolutionary songs' or illustrations of complete battle scenes.

The present recording doesn't bring any of that kind of music. This is all pretty classical, even those works written in the new 'symphonic style'. Ewald Kooiman went to the South German village of Weissenau (near Ravensburg), where Johann Nepomuk Holzhey (1741 - 1809) built a new organ for the abbey of the White Canons between 1785 and 1787. It had become unplayable in the early 20th century and was repaired in the late 1940's. A major restoration took place between 1988 and 1991 on the basis of historical research, which revealed the original specification of the organ.

The organ by Holzhey is a mixture of South German and French elements, and shows its full glory on this disc.

The Dutch organist Ewald Kooiman is an internationally renowned specialist in French organ music. His articulation is very differentiated, he adds ornaments where they are required, and applies the ‘notes inégales’ in order to enhance the expression.

Of course, the large range of colours which organs in French style have are helpful to bring as much variation as possible into every set of diminutions of the Noëls, but that isn’t all. Daquin’s Noël 9 is a set of variations which are to be played ‘on the flutes’ only, meaning the soft reed registers. The whole work lasts 8 minutes, but Kooiman keeps it interesting by his variable, flexible and subtle style of playing.

There is no shortage of recordings of French ‘Noëls’ on historical organs, but this interpretation is certainly one of the best I know, and in addition it presents music too often considered products of a period of ‘decay’, and therefore very seldom recorded.

The booklet contains informative notes by Ewald Kooiman, the complete disposition of the organ and the registration of every work. The cover has a beautiful picture of the organ. Well done.

Johan van Veen

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