Une Voix Française: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks

Une Voix Française
A French Voice: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks
Renée Anne Louprette
Acis APL01609. 69’58

Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) Te Deum
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) Improvisation 
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) Fugue
Jehan Alain (1911-1940) Variations on a Theme by Clément Jannequin
André Isoir (1935-2016) Six Variations on a Huguenot Psalm
Louis Vierne (1870-1937) Fantasy Pieces, Second Suite

This recording is an excellent reflection a small part of the important contribution to the history of organ composition by France, a powerhouse of organ design and composition with a tradition going back to the early 17th century. Since then, France has produced some of the best-known organ composers, with names such as Titelouze, Couperin, De Grigny, Widor, Vierne, and Messiaen among others. Focussing on the first half of the 20th century, Renée Anne Louprette‘s well-chosen programme includes a few well-known pieces, but there are some really interesting lesser-known works that sets this recording apart. Jeanne Demessieux’s dramatic opening Te Deum, is one example. It was composed for a recital she gave in 1958 in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, so it is an appropriate start for a recording made on the important 1993 NP Mander organ in nearby St. Ignatius Loyola church. Renée Anne Louprette was Associate Director of Music at this church from 2005 to 2011, and clearly knows and understands the instrument very well. The thundering opening soon subsides into a sequence of more rhapsodic passages, before the power of the opening and full resources of the organ returns.

It is followed by a rare example of an organ piece by the famed composer, teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger, her attractively melodic Improvisation (one of her ‘Three Pieces for Organ or Harmonium’), built on a gently rocking accompaniment. Jacques Ibert was a contemporary of Boulanger who also left very few organ compositions, a reflection of the fact that French organ composers were usually well-known as organists themselves. His Fugue is the third of his set of ‘Three Pieces’ and, as Renée Anne Louprette’s programme notes describe, reflects the sounds of César Franck. Jehan Alain’s well-known Variations on a Theme by Clément Jannequin the sinuous melodic lines and the gently plangent reed sounds reflecting the neo-baroque sounds of the early to mid 20th-century French organ, a homage to the organ of the French Baroque period of the mid 16th mid-17th centuries – usually referred to, for some reason, as the French ‘Classical’ organ.

André Isoir was a well-known and influential organ recitalist, well-known for introducing music of the French Baroque to London audiences during his appearances at the Royal Festival Hall’s ‘Wednesday at 5:55’ recital series. His only composition was this Six Variations on a Huguenot Psalm, using the full range of colours available on the French-inspired, but British built Noel Mander organ in St. Ignatius Loyola. It won a composition prize in 1974, and reflects several aspects of French compositional style, not least a concluding Toccata

Louis Vierne was one of the best known of all the French organist-composers, principally for his set of Organ Symphonies, continuing a tradition of his teacher Widor. His Second Suite of six pieces from the 24 Pièces de Fantasie (Op. 53) were all dedicated to American friends. They were composed for a 1924 recital tour of the USA to raise money for the Notre Dame Cathedral organ, where he was organist from 1900 until his death in 1937, perhaps appropriately, dying at the console during his 1750th organ recital. The six pieces vary widely in style, but are generally reflective apart from the Hymne au soleil and the concluding Toccata. They all were composed using the colours of his Cavaillé-Coll organ in Notre Dame, sounds that the Mander organ reproduces brilliantly.

Renée Anne Louprette spent time studying in France, and her knowledge of the French school of composition and organ building is clearly immense. She plays with a strength of conviction of a fine musical mind, and an impressive degree of technical skill that makes the most virtuosic moments spellbinding.  You can watch a video of Renée Anne Louprette playing Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum here.