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Jeanne DEMESSIEUX (1921-1968)
Sept Méditations sur le Saint-Esprit, Op. 6 (1947) [38:06]
Douze Chorals-Préludes sur des Thèmes Grégoriens, Op. 8 (1950) [32:01]
Triptyque, Op. 7 (1948) [14:24]
Prélude et fugue en ut dans le mode Lydien, Op. 13 (1962) [5:50]
Six Études Op 5 (1946) [25.09]
Te Deum, Op. 11 (1959) [7:20]
Répons pour le Temps de Pâques (1962-63) [8:04]
Pierre LABRIC (b. 1921)
Hommage à Jeanne Demessieux (1969) [13:13]
Pierre Labric (organ)
rec. 1971-1974, Angoulême and Rouen, France
SOLSTICE SOCD346/7 [2CDs: 141:20]

What fascinates me about this recording of the organ works of Jeanne Demessieux is that they are performed by Pierre Labric. You can’t get more authoritative accounts than these. Labric, who at the time of writing is still alive and will celebrate his 100th birthday in June, studied privately with Demessieux and was her assistant during the composer’s tenure as titular organist at La Madeleine in Paris.

Well, what of Demessieux herself? She studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire with Simon Riera and Magda Tagliaferro, harmony with Jean Gallon, counterpoint and fugue with Noël Gallon and composition with Henri Büsser. Later she studied organ with Marcel Dupré, receiving the Conservaoire’s first prize in organ performance and improvisation in 1941. Thus began a career in which she performed more than 700 concerts in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. In addition to this, she was a prolific recording artist and was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque Award in 1960 for her complete recording of Franck's organ works. Her oeuvre consists of around thirty works, mostly for organ but also includes some piano works, songs, choral and orchestral music. Sadly, Demessieux was struck down with cancer and died on November 11, 1968 in Paris aged only 47.

Composed in 1946, the Six Études Op 5 are the earliest works here, and call for a prodigious technique, especially when it comes to the pedal. Just to give one example of what I’m talking about, take Pointes, the first of the set. It’s a perpetuum mobile, where the pedal performs semiquavers, against chords in the hands. Towards the end, ‘wild’ octaves for both hands and feet are thrown in at the end for good measure. No. 5 is titled Notes repétées and concentrates on toe/heel work against staccato chords in the hands. Needless to say, Labric carries it all off with virtuosic flair and panache.

A year later came the Sept Méditations sur le Saint-Esprit, Op. 6. They offer a respectful nod to Olivier Messiaen. Demessieux had signed a contract with Decca to record the composer’s complete organ works, but never lived to complete the project. The seven-movement work must surely have been influenced by Messiaen’s L'Ascension, La Nativité du Seigneur and Les Corps glorieux. Directed to the third member of the Trinity, their overall character is one of deep reverence and contemplation.

Cast in three movements, as its title Triptyque suggests, it opens with Prélude. There’s much pain and discomfort in its dissonant harmonies. The Adagio, performed on a fluted stop, lets some light in, before a final Fugue ushers in a more euphoric mein, with liberation finally achieved at the conclusion. The Te Deum dates from 1958. Labric performs with infectious exuberance, building up the tension throughout with rhythmic drive and persistent ostinatos. It’s a veritable showpiece, and has gained much popularity over the years amongst organists.

Apart from four pieces published in 2006, this cycle represents all of Demessieux’s organ compositions. Labric offers his own tribute to his friend and mentor in the final track of CD 2 by way of his own composition.

The two organs used during the recording, that of Saint-Ouen Abbey, Rouen and the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Angoulême, are ideal for showcasing this wonderful music. Specifications for each instrument are included in the booklet.

Stephen Greenbank



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