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Musique sacrée en Nouvelle-France
Masses, Motets and Organ Works from French North America
Réjean Poirier (organ)
Marie-Claude Arpin, Wanda Procyshyn (soprano)
Michel Léonard (tenor)
Normand Richard (bass)
Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal/Christopher Jackson
rec. 11-14 June 1995, la Halle aux Vivres de Brouage, Charente-Maritime, France, and 14-15 June, l’église de Villiers-le-Bel (organ works and plainchant)
Texts not included.
Reviewed as downloaded from press access.
Originally released by K617.
ATMA ACD22764 [77:27]

There are several recordings of the music which the Spanish and Portuguese took to and adapted for their colonies in the New World. There’s a rather ad hoc collection of secular music entitled Belle Virginie: musique pour la Nouvelle France (Ambronay AMY021), but this is the only one I know which covers French sacred music in North America. Originally recorded in 1995 and released on the K617 label, the reissue of this recording from a distinguished Canadian group by the French-Canadian label Atma is particularly appropriate. The omission of the texts, especially as some of them are in a Native American language, is much less welcome. It’s especially poignant that I should have come across this collection at a time when the ambiguity of the church’s role in dealing with the First Nation of Canada has been graphically highlighted by the fact that religious statues have been overthrown and churches burned as new discoveries have come to light.

The chequered history of the Iberians in dealing with the inhabitants of the New World was well documented at the time by writers such as Bishop de las Casas, so there’s an apparent dichotomy between that treatment and the enthralling music on collections such Missa Mexicana (The Harp Consort, Andrew Lawrence-King, Harmonia Mundi HMU907293, download only – review of earlier release) and the three Hyperion albums recorded by Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore (CDA30030 – review – CDA or SACDA67524, CDA or SACDA67600 – review). It doesn’t make the music any less beautiful or those performances any less desirable, and the same applies to the Atma recording. From the very start, as Columbus made clear in his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella detailing the success of his first voyage, European attitudes to the Amerindians were twofold: first convert, then enslave or at least control. The music on this Atma recording reflects the first, more honourable, part of that scheme, though we now know that the French missionaries had no less a chequered  relationship with the Native Americans.

Unlike the Hispanic collections, none of the named composers on the Atma recording seems to have composed the music in America, though the music of Henri Du Mont and André Campra was popular there and may well have been specifically composed for use in the New World. It seems perfectly fitting that these Canadian performers should have brought the music back to France to record it there, not least because the organ of the church at Villiers-le-Bel is so appropriate for this repertoire.

The music, or these versions of it, often the work of a named composer anonymously adapted, is relatively simple, as befits parish use, including the ‘musical’ plainsong, designed to be more popular in appeal, and the organ mass, with alternate verses sung and performed on the organ. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t attractive, especially as performed here – considerably better than your average parish choir. Even those pieces taken from the Abenaki Mission collection which are indicated as sung in Latin and identified as by Campra are comparatively straightforward. The two voices blended in the Easter motet Hæc dies are the high point of this section of the recording; elsewhere diction is not always of the clearest. I can’t, of course, comment on the Abenaki, but there’s a note in the booklet by an expert endorsing that aspect of the project. There doesn’t, to my ear at least, seem to be much, if any, influence of the music of the First Nation on any of the settings; in the main, this is the sort of music that could have been heard anywhere in France or the French colonies at the time.

The recording is good. The notes are detailed and informative, explaining, for example, the difference between traditional plainchant and the ‘musical plainchant’ that was becoming popular at the time, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of texts. That lack apart, there’s much to enjoy here.

Brian Wilson

Anon., Jean-Baptiste GEOFFROY (1601-1675) and André CAMPRA (1660-1744)
Manuscript from the Abenaki Mission de Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak) [16:34]
O quam suavis à 4 voix (in Abenaki) [1:57]
Panis angelicus pour soprano, ténor et basse continue (in Abenaki) [1:10]
O bone Jesu pour soprano et basse continue (Campra; in Latin) [0:52]
O Jesu mi dulcis pour soprano et basse continue (Campra; in Latin) [2:02]
Ave Maria à 4 voix (in Abenaki) [1:58]
Satis, satis est pour 2 sopranos et basse continue (in Latin) [2:24]
Hæc dies pour 2 sopranos et basse continue (in Latin and in Abenaki) [1:24]
Inviolata à 4 voix (in Abenaki) [1:38]
Ego sum panis vivus à 4 voix (Geoffroy; in Abenaki) [3:09]
Anon. and Henry Du MONT (1610-1684)
«Kyrie » de la Messe du 4e ton du Livre d’orgue de Montréal (Late C17 MS) alternating with «Kyrie » de la Messe royale du 1er ton en plain-chant musical d’Henry Du Mont (1660s)
Kyrie: Plein jeu - Plainchant – Fugue
Christe: Plainchant - Récit - Plainchant
Kyrie: Basse de trompette - Plain-chant - Dialogue [7:13]
Artus Aux-COUSTEAUX (c.1590-1656)
Messe Grata sum harmonia à 5 voix (Missa quinque vocum ‘Grata sum harmonia’, Paris, 1647) [21:17]
Charles-Amador MARTIN (1648-1711) (attrib.)
Prose de la Sainte Famille en plain-chant musical (manuscripts) [2:43]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS (1632-1714)
Introit for Saint Joseph (plain chant, manuscripts) [2:50]
Nicolas LEBÈGUE (1631-1702)
Deux petits motets pour soprano et orgue (Motets pour les principales fêtes de l’année, à une voix seule avec la basse continue & plusieurs petites ritournelles pour l’orgue ou les violes, Paris, 1687):
Salve Regina [5:24]
Regina coeli [2:20]
Henri FRÉMART (c.1585-1651)
Messe ad placitum à 4 voix (Missa quatuor vocum Ad placitum, Paris, 1642):
Kyrie [3:01]
Sanctus [3:32]
Agnus Dei [1:16]
Anon. and Nicolas LEBÈGUE (1631-1702)
Pièces du Livre d’orgue de Montréal (MS, end of C17):
Plein jeu [1:37]
Cromorne en taille (Lebègue) [2:06]
Trio [1:58]
Dessus de voix humaine [1:33]
Tierce en taille (Lebègue) [2:12]
Dialogue [1:22]

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