Lovers of French organ music will feel a smile coming to their faces when they see an organ CD entitled 'Une Voix Française'. However, I can imagine the enthusiasm waning somewhat when they notice that this CD was recorded in the United States or America.
We are very aware that America has a thriving organ culture and had its current President any appreciation the organ as an instrument, he would – not without a little of his usual chauvinism - proclaim ‘We have the biggest instruments in the world!’
Unfortunately, ‘bigger is not always mean ‘better’, And many of these ‘Bakbeest’ (Dutch for a fattened pig) tend to disappoint. In the early days of the CD, I borrowed recordings of such instruments from the Public Library, curious about the batteries of strings, reeds and registers of 32 ft pitch. I was almost invariably disappointed. These giants, frequently with more than a hundred speaking stops, usually lose out to more modest instruments in a more favourable acoustic. Closer to home … how many organists did not lament ‘How would the Van den Heuvel in Katwijk sound in a church with decent acoustics?’
With that in mind, you start to listen this CD played by Renée Louprette with some reservations. Well, any such misgivings go straight out of the window as soon as Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum starts emanating from your speakers. Without wishing to denigrate the American organ culture, you might observe the language spoken here is not American, nor even double-Dutch!
To put it simply, there are three factors that bring us to this conclusion: The organ by the British builder Mander proves to be eminently suitable for this repertoire.
Secondly, the church has an excellent acoustic. Not for nothing did the New York Times observe, with regard to this particular installation, that one of the most important stops of an organ is acoustic of the room in which it is built. And finally, Ms. Louprette’s playing has a French touch that is indispensable for the performance of this repertoire.
This, together with a fascinating programme of music, makes for a CD that is well worth listening to, to put it mildly!
After the virtuoso Dmessieux Te Deum of, two lesser known works by Nadia Boulanger and Jacques Ibert follow. Neither composers that we normally associate with the organ but having listened to these works one can but wish that they had written more compositions for the King (or as Mendelssohn actually said, Queen) of Instruments.
This is followed Alain’s Variations on theme by Clément Jannequin. Jehan Alain indicated that he wanted this work to be performed as if it were a composition by Couperin. And once again organ-builder Mander shows he is able to build an organ on which also those 'older sounds' speak well. Even Ton Koopman found this organ interesting enough to perform on it.
I will never forget a recital by Johan van Dommele in the Eusebius Church in Arnhem in the nineteen-eighties. On the programme were the 6 Variations sur une Psaume Huguenot by André Isoir. A wonderful contemporary work heard far too seldom. In a country such as the Netherlands, one born and bred with Genevan Psalter, the work really should be known better. Although the work is contemporary, the Genevan melody of Psalm 92 is prominent. My thoughts go back to the passage: “…that even created the breath with which he is praised”. I only know the Paris recording by Isoir himself of 1992 (Erato). But here, this music comes into its own in New York, possibly even better...
Finally, we come to the Vierne. His six Pièces de Fantaisie (2nd Suite) are all beautifully played, one by one! Renée Anne Louprette must be counted among the greatest performers of our time and you can enjoy this breath-taking instrument, even if you associate 'Claire de lune' with strings and flutes from the Cavaillé-Coll workshop.
The recording is excellent. Despite the lack of photographs, the booklet contains the information that is of interest, even the materials used in the construction of the organ are listed. How very British!
The White House Incumbent could revel in having such greats - artist and instrument - in his home country!
Bert Rebergen for ORGELNIEUWS.NL (April 2018)
Further details on this organ are here: St Ignatius Loyola Church