Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Messe d’Escalquens op. 19 (1935) [7:12]
Folkloric Suite for organ, Op. 77 (1952) - Canzona* [3:24]
Cinq Motets Opp. 3 and 8
Ave mundi gloria (1932) [2:39]
O Salutaris (1932) [1:50]
Tantum ergo (1932) [1:23]
O bone Jesu (1941) [2:02]
Chant litanique (1942) [1:04]
Folkloric Suite for organ, Op. 77 - Cantique* [4:56]
Cantate en l’honneur de Saint Louis-Marie-de Montfort Op. 53 (1947) [6:01]
Incantation pour un Jour Saint Op. 64 (1949)* [4:46]
Trois Prières Op 65 (1949)
Ave verum [1:40]
Ave maris stella [1:59]
Tantum ergo [1:47]
10 Pièces pour orgue, Op 91 (1956) - Pasticcio* [2:30]
Missa in simplicitate Op. 75 (1952) [13:19]
Maîtrise des Bouches-du-Rhône/Samuel Coquard/*Marie-Louise Langlais (organ)
rec. 3-5 October 2007, l’église Saint-Vincent de Roquevaire (Bouches-du-Rhône)
Latin and French texts with English translations included
SOLSTICE SOCD 241 [56:40]
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 imposing piece.
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 sung.
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.
Lovers of French choral music should investigate this enterprising issue.