Messe Da Pacem

Messe Da Pacem
Music by Pierre Villette, Yves Castagnet and Maurice Ravel
Choir of Royal Holloway, Rupert Gough
Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Notre-Dame d’Auteuil in Paris
Ad Fontes
AF004. 75’27

Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte / Requiem æternam
Pierre Villette: Messe Da Pacem; Élévation; Hymne à la Vierge; Salutation angélique
Yves Castagnet: Messe Breve; Veni Sancte Spiritus

This recording from the Choir of Royal Holloway brings together three composers spanning 20th-century France, including arrangements of the Ravel and Villette Messe Da Pacem by the choir’s director, Rupert Gough. It was recorded in the summer of 2019 (apparently in sweltering heat) in the church of Notre-Dame d’Auteuil in Paris, using the important newly restored Cavaillé-Coll organ, originally completed in 1855 with an inaugural recital given by Widor.

The recording opens with Rupert Gough’s arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte for choir and organ, adding the words of the Introit to the Requiem Mass: Requiem æternam. It is a far cry from the image of a little Spanish princess dancing, but the title itself was, as Ravel put it: “nothing to do with the composition. I simply liked the sound of those words”. It makes an appropriate prelude to the main work, Villette’s Messe Da Pacem, also arranged for choir and organ by Rupert Gough.

Pierre Villette (1926–1998) finished the Messe Da Pacem in 1970, although early drafts date back to 1951. It is scored for choir, echo choir, soprano soloist, full symphony orchestra, and one or two organs. Rupert Gough’s adaption of the symphonic score for organ reflects the registration possibilities of a Cavaillé-Coll organ, with its range of orchestral colours, as well as the organ composition technique of Villette’s teacher, Maurice Duruflé, whose own Requiem has a formidable organ score. The result, as performed by Andrew Dewar on the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Notre-Dame d’Auteuil in Paris, is exceptional/

The musical roots of the Mass are in the mid-century Parisian tradition of Duruflé and Debussy, with some wonderfully sensuous harmonies and choral and organ textures. The recording captures the sound well, no easy task, given that the choir and the organ were at opposite ends of the church. The pronounced vibrato of soprano Sarah Fox (first heard at the intonation of the Gloria) is something that I would normally criticize but, here (and in the Salutation angélique), it adds a certain Gallic je ne sais quoi. The extended Gloria opens and closes with some exciting organ flourishes with several reflective solo moments in between. A magical moment comes during the Sanctus when an echo (Céleste)choir

The three shorter Villette pieces were all composed during recuperative stays in the French Alps, where he become organist of Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d’Assy, a modernist church famed for its inclusion of contemporary art, with works by Bonnard, Braque, Chagall, Léger and Matisse. The ethereal solo organ Élévation was composed with that church’s organ in mind. The Hymne à la Vierge is the only Villette piece generally known to choirs. It was originally entitled Prière à Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce, and is dedicated to the priest of that church. Both were composed n 1955.

Yves Castagnet (b.1964) is organist at the choir organ of Notre Dame de Paris, a separate entity to the organist of the grand west-end organ. From there he directs most of the daily service music as well as teaching with the Association Musique Sacrée à Notre-Dame de Paris. The 1991 Messe Breve was his first composition and was intended to fit within the requirements of the Notre-Dame liturgy, after the Second Vatican Council. Liam Condon is the organist.

The Veni Sancte Spiritus was composed in 2013 for the 850th anniversary of Notre-Dame and was apparently written the day before. Both pieces reveal a composer of note within the French tradition, the Veni Sancte Spiritus having a particularly lively part.

This recording is very welcome, demonstrating some little-known aspects of recent French compositions as well as the strength of the British choral tradition, safe in the hands of the likes of the talented Choir of Royal Holloway.