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Louis James Alfred LEFÉBURE-WÉLY (1817-1869)
Pour une Procession de la Fête-Dieu:
Antienne Adore et procidamus [1'59]
Marche en mi majeur [8'07]
Adoro te (alterne) [6'34]
Motet Tantum ergo [3'06]
Hymne Sacris colemniis (alternée) [6'31]
Elevation en la mineur [2'37]
Marche en ut majeur [5'29]
Pour une Messe du jour de Noel:
Noel varié, offertoire pour le jour de Noel [7'12]
Sanctus [1'22]
Motet O Salutaris [4'28]
Pastorale en sol majeur [1'37]
Agnus Dei [1'47]
Communion en fa majeur [4'55]
Domine salvum [1'32]
Sortie Missum Redemptorum [2'46]
Sortie en sib majeur et Cloches [7'32]
Vincent Genvrin, organ, La Lyre Séraphique, Ensemble Vocal L'Accent Grave/Xavier Bisaro, Ensemble Vocal Intermezzo/Claire Marchand, Sylvie de May, soprano, Catherine Ravenne, alto
Rec: St Sulpice, Paris, 1995 DDD


Lefébure-Wély is still mistakenly considered by many organists and organ-devotees to be some sort of clown. Nothing could be further from the truth. His music, while perhaps not always in the best possible taste, simply reflects the trend of his time, when the church music reflected necessarily the contemporary operatic style. Not for nothing did Cavaillé-Coll always prefer to have his new organs demonstrated by Lefébure. Nowadays, Lefébure's music is better known than that of Boely, who, though undoubtedly a better composer, was hopelessly unfashionable in his time. Today, though Lefébure's organ works are usually treated as jokes, something to race through at obscene tempi with silly registrations in order to send an audience home happy. His non-organ works are never heard at all. At the forefront of the Lefébure-revival has been the Belgian organist Joris Verdin. Fifteen years ago it would have been astonishing to think that Verdin could now give classes on Lefébure during the biennial Gothenburg International Academy, one of the greatest world-meetings of organ-minds. I remember Verdin in one of these classes exclaiming, on finding a golden section recapitulation in a little 'Récit d'Hautbois', "when people find golden sections in Bach, they go crazy, when they find them in Lefébure, nobody cares!" Well perhaps this is taking things a little far, but the time has certainly come to consider Lefébure in a new light.

I was delighted then to receive this very serious disc of excerpts of 'L'Organiste Moderne' put into their liturgical contexts, by means of plainchant in the alternatim works, motets, and even the bells of St Sulpice recorded from within the church after the final Sortie. Vincent Genvrin, the titulaire of Soissons Cathedral, plays every piece lovingly, never too fast, coaxing the best out of the largest of Cavaillé-Coll's surviving masterpieces, in St Sulpice. Even the rarely-heard hail machine makes an appearance in the Noel Varié. Unfortunately some of the choral singing is of a rather lower standard. The marvellously theatrical singing of Sylvie de May and Catherine Ravenne can hardly fail to raise a smile, it seems just right for the music.

Great music? No. Sentimental? Sometimes. Operatic? Certainly. But for recreating the atmosphere of the Christmas mass at St Sulpice in the time of Lefébure, and for demonstrating music which Genvrin describes as "telling and with an inherent equilibrium" which such care and insight, this is hugely enjoyable. Unfortunately only part of the booklet is translated, and there is no organ specification or photo, a grave error. Don't let it put you off, this is a must-have.

Chris Bragg

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