David Ponsford’s excellent series of organ music from the French Golden Age reaches volume 3 with substantial works performed on a stunning instrument by Jean Boizard (c. 1675-1717). This organ is a remarkable survivor of two fires, the French Revolution and two world wars, and has remained essentially unmodified from its early 18th
André Raison is the less familiar of the two names represented here. He was one of the highest ranking organists in Paris in his day, and composed five organ masses. These are not always based on plainchant melodies and many of the movements have a secular connection to harpsichord dance forms of the time. This results in quite a lively feel for much of the piece, though there is a nice balance between these and the more stately music essential for the appropriate ecclesiastical atmosphere of certain parts of the service. Raison’s Messe du premier ton
is something of a compendium of organ styles and moods, and perfect for demonstrating the qualities of the instrument played. The Offerte du 5me ton, Le vivre le roy des Parisiens
celebrates the recovery of Louis XIV from a nasty operation, and is an exuberant work full of dance sections. The often spectacular registrations follow those specified by the composer.
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault was a pupil of Raison, and the two suites on this recording are dedicated to him. Clérambault was organist by royal appointment and a natural successor to Raison, composing in the same French Baroque tradition but showing a development in terms of scale and ever richer harmonic treatments. The two suites each have seven movements which would have been the requirement for an alternatim
Magnificat: the organ couplets alternating with sung plainchant. Explorations of tonal contrast and dialogue as well as counterpoint and other aspects of French and Italian styles all join to create the kind of superb sequence in which you can just lie back and lose yourself, confident of inhabiting the sounds of the time in which these pieces were written.
The Clérambault works in particular are fairly popular on recordings, and there is even a version made using the same instrument in an otherwise vocal programme from the Virgin Veritas label (see review
). David Ponsford’s superb series deserves support however, and truly rewards investment. A review of volume 1 can be found here
, and volume 2 here
. This third volume is something of a highlight but each has its own special character and they all belong together on your shelf of organ treasures.