Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Messe solennelle, Op. 16 (1899) [21:09]
Tantum ergo [4:00]
Ave Maria [1:58] Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Messe à deux chœurs et deux orgues, Op. 36 (1878) [11:14]
Tantum ergo, Op. 18/1 (1874) [1:24]
Psaume 83, Op. 23/1 (1876) [5:09]
Tu es Petrus, Op. 23/2 (1876) [2:56]
Surrexit a mortuis, Op. 23/3 (1876) [3:39]
Vincent Boucher, Jonathan Oldengarm (organs)
Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal
Les Chantres Musiciens/Gilbert Patenaude
rec. 19-21 February 2015, St Joseph’s Oratory, Mount Royal, Montreal,
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from
Pdf booklet does not include sung texts ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22718 [51:29]
If you associate Vierne and Widor just with solo organ
works it may come as a surprise to discover they wrote a number of religious
pieces for organ and choir as well. Granted, the latter may seem relatively
obscure by comparison but they’re worth getting to know. ATMA
Classique are still quite new to me, but their recent Festival
au grand-orgue – featuring the talented Dom Richard Gagné
– proved to be a real treat. The choirs on this new album, so
ably directed by Gilbert Patenaude, are both well established and well
regarded. As for Vincent Boucher, appointed titular organist of St Joseph's
Oratory in February 2015, this is his first recording in that role.
The sanctuary's second organ is played here by Jonathan Oldengarm.
Charles-Marie Widor and the influential organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
were part of another French revolution, this time in the late nineteenth
century, in which the king of instruments was restored to its rightful
place as a serious musical force. That included new or rebuilt organs
and an entirely different style of playing. In 1870 Widor replaced Louis
Lefébure-Wély (1817-1869) as titulaire of Saint-Sulpice, Paris,
which also boasted what many regard as Cavaillé-Coll's finest instrument.
The young Louis Vierne was Widor's assistant there from 1892 to 1900.
Vierne wrote his Messe solennelle for Saint-Sulpice, where
it was premiered in December 1901. Scored for choir and two organs it
follows the usual Mass format but – like Widor’s Op. 36
– it omits the Credo. I'm delighted to report that Gilbert
Patenaude leads his musicians in a performance that’s both grand
and intimate. They’re recorded in a warm, fairly reverberant acoustic
with the voices atmospherically distant. As for St Joseph's newly restored
5,811-pipe Beckerath organ it’s wonderfully robust, with a firm,
rolling bass. The Kyrie, so cleanly articulated, is lovely
and there’s a radiance to the singing that’s very impressive
The rest of the Mass is just as appealing. The Gloria may seem
a tad unwieldy at times, but the organ part is glorious. The Sanctus
has a lovely underlying barcarolle-like rhythm that’s well caught
by the ATMA engineers. The more rarefied Benedictus, which
reprises those beguiling rhythms, ends with satisfying weight and splendour.
As for the Agnus Dei, it emerges with remarkable transparency,
before ending with a heart-piercing sense of repose. Vierne’s
two Op. 18 motets are just as beautifully presented; the Tantum
ergo has inwardness aplenty, and the Ave Maria is sung
with an artless fervour that’s most affecting.
There’s another recording of an almost identical programme –
plus Marcel Dupré's Quatre Motets, Op. 9 – with the Westminster
Cathedral Choir conducted by James O’Donnell (Hyperion CDA66898).
Predictably this is on a much grander scale, with a truly thunderous
organ and that clear, very English choral sound. There’s a much
greater sense of space here – it’s Westminster Cathedral,
after all – with voices and organs placed in a wide, deep soundstage.
O’Donnell and his forces, quite brightly recorded, find sharper
contrasts in the Mass than Patenaude and his musicians do. That said,
the latter’s performance is more personal – there's
more light, shade and colour, too – and that's very refreshing.
Ditto the two Op. 18 motets, which have a plangent loveliness in Montreal
that’s missing in London.
Broadly speaking, the same observations apply to the Widor works, although
the Westminster performance of the Mass emerges with a thrilling heft
that’s hard to beat. Both this and the less overt Montreal approach
seem to ‘work’, but I suspect your choice of recording will
depend on your preferred scale and vocal style. I’m mildly allergic
to the very clean, almost white sound of English cathedral choirs, the
boys especially; by contrast,the Quebec singers have a European warmth,
a roundness of tone, that’s much more to my taste. Also, one could
argue that O'Donnell, his musicians, and the Hyperion engineers emphasise
the music's ceremonial aspects; by contrast Patenaude and the ATMA team
really bring out its devotional character.
Warmly communicative performances in very decent sound; well worth hearing.
Founding Editor Rob Barnett Senior Editor
John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
Vacant MusicWeb Webmaster
David Barker MusicWeb Founder Len Mullenger