This disc is something of an act of homage to the blind French
composer and organist, Jean Langlais. The conductor of the choir,
Samuel Coquard, is an evident enthusiast for Langlais’
music and extra interest is generated by the presence at the
organ console of the composer’s widow, Marie-Louise Langlais.
There may be one point of additional interest to this recording.
I understand that the eighteenth-century church in which the
recording was made has housed, since the late 1990s, a five-manual,
70-stop organ that belonged to the great French organist, Pierre
Cochereau. I don’t know if that instrument was used on
this recording - no details are given - but the organ makes
a wonderfully authentic, reedy French sound. Nowhere is this
better illustrated than in the majestic, full-throated account
of Incantation pour un Jour Saint. This is by
some distance the most familiar piece on the programme and Mme.
Langlais sounds as authoritative as you would expect in this
The other three organ pieces are much more modest in scale and
act as suitable interludes between the vocal items. I liked
Cantique, which is a delightfully airy and gentle little
piece. The Pasticcio is an engagingly humorous offering.
The remainder of the programme offers mainly liturgical music
- I’m not sure if Cantate en l’honneur de Saint
Louis-Marie-de Montfort can be thus classified. The music
is all very well sung by Maîtrise des Bouches-du-Rhône.
This is a youth choir, founded in 1994 and directed since 2002
by Samuel Coquard. Twenty-four singers are listed in the booklet
of which six are boys. They make a pleasing, fresh and clear
sound throughout the programme. So far as I could judge - all
the music was new to me - their singing is accurate and there’s
most certainly no lack of commitment.
The music itself is appealing, though some of it is modest -
by design. That’s certainly the case with the Messe
d’Escalquens, which was written at the request of
the local parish priest. He wanted a simple, straightforward
and brief mass setting and that’s exactly what Langlais
delivered. The church at Escalquens, where Langlais was eventually
buried, only had a harmonium so the accompaniment was written
for that instrument or organ. The Mass, which is a Missa Brevis
- it has no Credo - was only rediscovered decades after its
composition and was not published until 2007. It’s for
two equal voices and is a pleasing, though fairly slight, work.
I think the same description fits the five short motets that
come next in the programme, all of which are for two equal voices
and organ. These are simple, essentially modal pieces and, like
the Mass, were expressly composed to be sung by parish church
choirs. As such, they are admirably suited for everyday liturgical
use and that’s a very fitting and proper thing. I thought
that O bone Jesu was a lovely, unpretentious piece. All
these motets are modest in scale but direct and sincere in expression.
The Cantate en l’honneur de Saint Louis-Marie-de Montfort,
in honour of a Breton saint, was written in 1947 for the choir
of a school for blind girls, near Poitiers. It seems to have
lain completely forgotten since its first performance until
Samuel Coquard came across it amongst the composer’s manuscripts.
This is its first recording. It’s a setting of a florid
text - the authorship is not disclosed - in honour of the saint
and much of the music is extrovert and celebratory. It’s
“bigger” music than most of the other vocal works
on the CD and it’s also quite demanding on the performers.
Coquard’s choir performs it with verve and freshness.
The last couple of minutes of the piece include some demandingly
high writing for the singers. They’re evidently stretched
by the music but come through well.
I didn’t find the Trois Prières engaged
my attention very greatly, I’m afraid and I must admit
to some confusion also in that, even having listened attentively
and through headphones, the printed texts for the first and
third of these pieces seems to bear no relation to what is being
The final work, Missa in simplicitate, has an unusual
genesis. It was written in great haste to be sung not by a choir
but by a solo singer. This was a mezzo-soprano from the Paris
Opera, Janine Collard. In her booklet note Marie-Louise Langlais
relates that Langlais was holidaying at a small Breton village,
La Richardais, and the rector asked him to write a Mass setting
for Collard, who was visiting, to sing at Sunday Mass. Langlais
duly obliged. The resulting work, which can as well be sung
by unison choir with organ accompaniment, as is the case here,
is on a small scale but it’s evident that Langlais felt
inspired by the presence of a mature artist and, moreover, one
with dramatic experience. So, as compared with most of the other
vocal music in this collection, we find more complexity and
drama in Langlais’ writing. The Kyrie is quite dark in
character. The setting includes a Credo and, inspired by baroque
operatic recitative, Langlais set several stretches of text
in a quasi-recitative, rather staccato style. The Credo ends
impressively with a majestic vocal line at “Et vitam venturi
saeculi”, underpinned by a powerful organ accompaniment.
The Mass ends with a setting of Agnus Dei that has an urgent
undertone despite sounding gentle on the surface.
To be honest I don’t think this collection unearths any
unknown masterpieces. But the music is unfailingly sincere and
well crafted and I enjoyed the disc very much. My enjoyment
was enhanced by the committed and pleasing singing of the Maîtrise
des Bouches-du-Rhône and it’s evident that the disc
has been a labour of love for Samuel Coquard, who inspires his
young singers to give of their best. As well as contributing
at the organ console Marie-Louise Langlais has written interesting
and useful notes on the music. Lovers of French choral music
should investigate this enterprising issue, especially as it’s
unlikely that much of it will be committed to disc by anyone
else I the immediate future.