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NoŽls franÁais
Daniel Meylan (organ of the Basilique de Saint-Maximin)
rec. Basilique de Saint-Maximin, Var, France. DDD. Date not stated.

Though I received this for review on CD, UK dealers appear to be offering it as a download or for streaming only, with a pdf booklet. I mention that at the outset because I know that it will be a no-no for some readers. NB: The purchase links are to downloads.

The composing of organ music based on traditional Christmas tunes was quite an industry in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and we were not short of similar collections. I’ve mentioned several of these, not so much for comparison with the new album, which is enjoyable in its own right, so much as suggestions for further exploration.

Most of these recordings offer a selection of music by various composers; one such comes on an earlier Hortus release (HORTUS 149, Nicolas Bucher). Presumably by design, only one of three Daquin pieces there is repeated on the new recording and the other music is by completely different composers: Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Alexandre BoŽly, Guillaume Lasceux, Gervais-FranÁois Couperin and Nicolas Sťjan. Johan van Veen – review – thought that organ lovers should not hesitate to buy that disc, recorded on a modern organ which contains elements of earlier builds. If you already have it, or intend to obtain it, the different programme will be no obstacle to purchase of the new release.

On yet another Hortus recording Daniel Meylan performs a further selection of NoŽls by Balbastre, Dandrieu, Daquin and Corrette. Once again, duplication has been avoided apart from Dandrieu’s well-known Or nous dites Marie, which features on that and the new recording. The chief interest of that earlier album is an anonymous setting of the Magnificat for Christmas Vespers, again employing traditional French tunes. Chris Bragg’s only concern was the short playing time of an otherwise very recommendable recording; he thought the playing of Meylan charming, lithe, sophisticated and beautifully ornamented. (Hortus 043, now download only – review).

Ton Koopman spreads his net wider than the French NoŽls in a recording of Christmas organ music: alongside pieces by Daquin, Dandrieu and LebŤgue, he offers music by Bull, Sweelinck, Zipoli and Bach. I had some reservations about aspects of that Challenge Classics recording (CC72234 – review), and I much prefer Meylan’s way with this music. He’s much more in tune with the style of Marie-Claire Alain on a CD of NoŽls with which I compared Koopman and which I wish Warner Classics would reissue. (It’s available only on the 22-CD Erato collection 2564631064. Who buys these huge sets?)

Some collections concentrate on the music of a single composer, such as Olivier Baumont’s album of the NoŽls of Balbastre, who composed four suites of these pieces (Tempťraments 3700). Radio France offer a collection of the six organ concertos of Corrette, with several of his NoŽls interspersed (TEM316039, Fabio Bonizzoni, organ, with La Risonanza). Another Baumont recording features the NoŽls of Dandrieu on a 2-CD set which Johan van Veen thought a worthy tribute to the composer (Tempťraments TEM316041.42 – review). The three pieces which Meylan plays on the new recording should prove an attractive taster for those who wish to explore further.

Daquin, whose Op.2 collection is represented by three excerpts on the new Hortus, is featured on several recordings of the complete Suite, from Vincent Bouchier (Atma ACD22703, download only) and Adriano Falcioni on budget-price Brilliant Classics (94895). My personal choice would be Christopher Herrick on Hyperion. If the Daquin pieces on Hortus catch your attention, as I believe they will, you may well find yourself as hooked by the Herrick as I was – review. The only problem is that, unbelievably, the budget-price reissue that I reviewed is now deleted on CD and the disc is available only via the Hyperion Archive Service for £13.99 or as a download with pdf booklet for £8.99 (CDA66816 – from

Listening to a selection of these, both those that I had heard before and those that I hadn’t, I find Meylan on the new Hortus both the equal of his former self and of the others. In fact, Chris Bragg, in reviewing that earlier Meylan selection – see above – has taken the words metaphorically right out of my mouth. To his descriptions, I’d simply like to add that the four-manual instrument used here gives him plenty of scope to vary the registration, so that he can range from charm to power in a piece like Oý s’en vont ces gais bergers? (Track 11).

The organ, which dates from 1773-4 has largely withstood nineteenth- and twentieth-century tampering and, as restored, sounds just the right instrument for Meylan’s interpretations. In fact, I would have liked more information; apparently, it has 43 stops, but what they are, much less those chosen for each piece, we are not told. In some respects, I find that lack of information more of a disappointment than the short playing time of the earlier album, but everything else in terms of performance and recording is just right.

I wouldn’t have mistaken Daniel Meylan’s own work which rounds off the recital for a baroque piece – for one thing it calls for heavier registration and is as much influenced by the North German as by the French organ school. It didn’t do much to persuade me of the value of the recording – that had already been accomplished – but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment, either. And there are no complaints about the length of playing time on this occasion.

One notable omission from the composers on the new Hortus recording is Marc-Antoine Charpentier; consider the addition of a Naxos recording of his NoŽls and Christmas Motets from the Aradia Ensemble directed by Kevin Mallon, with Christopher Dawes, organ, 8.554514). I mentioned that in my Christmas survey last December, together with Mallon’s recording of Charpentier’s Christmas Midnight Mass and Te Deum. You’ll also find mention there of Les Arts Florissants’ recording of the Mass, interspersed with several NoŽls.

Another Harmonia Mundi recording from Les Arts Florissants which used to be available as a budget-price CD is now download only and no longer inexpensive, but still very worthwhile (HMX2921082,Pastorale sur la Naissance de Notre Seigneur Jťsus Christ, H483 and In nativitatem Domini canticum, H414). Another recording of H483, together with some of the variants from revisions of that work, H483a and H483b, and the Advent Antiphons comes from Ensemble Correspondances (HMC902247). I missed that when it was released, so let me say that it’s every bit as good as Johan van Veen indicates in his review.

If all these recommendations seem a trifle overwhelming, the new Hortus would be a good starting point, unless you can find the Alain recording. Just be prepared for it to lead you to explore some of the other recordings mentioned.

Brian Wilson

Jean-FranÁois DANDRIEU (1682-1738)
Livre de NoŽls en La Mineur (pub.1759)
XVI. Chantons de voix hautaine [5:21]
XVII. NoŽl de Saintonge [2:43]
III. Or nous dites Marie [5:25]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)
Nouveau livre de NoŽls, Op.2 (1757):
No.6. NoŽl sur les jeux d’anches, Adam fut un pauvre homme [6:09]
No.10. NoŽl grand-jeu et duo, Quand Dieu naquit a NoŽl [6:17]
No.11. NoŽl en Recit en Taille, sur la tierce du positif, avec la pedale de flute, et en duo [7:08]
Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795)
Nouveau livre de NoŽls (1753)
Suite No.2: I. Vous qui dťsirez sans fin [6:30]
Suite No.3: III. Je me suis levť [5:02]
Suite No.1: IV. NoŽl provenÁal [2:12]
Claude BALBASTRE (1727-1795)
Receuil des NoŽls, PremiŤre Suite (1770)
II. Joseph est bien mariť [5:31]
III. Oý s’en vont ces gais bergers? [6:09]
DeuxiŤme suite de NoŽls : IV. Au jŰ deu de pubelle [2:07]
Daniel MEYLAN (b.1953)
Voici le jour solennel [11:21]

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