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French Organ Music Volume 1 - François Couperin and Pierre Du Mage



French organ music from the period of Louis XIV to the Revolution has always held fascination for performers and listeners alike. The kaleidoscope of colours, the rich and varied styles, and the sheer exuberance of the music never fail to captivate. Yet, performance practice of this music has never been fully understood. David Ponsford has spent much of his career studying this repertoire, resulting in his book French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV (Cambridge University Press, 2011). The present series of recordings, including the music of Louis Couperin, André Raison, Jacques Boyvin, François Couperin, Nicolas de Grigny, Louis Marchand, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, up to composers of the Revolution such as Balbastre, Beauvarlet Charpentier and Lesceux, is therefore the fruit of many years of research by a seasoned performer whose aim is to combine technical brilliance with intellectual understanding, to bring the music alive with authority and meaning.

French Organ Music Volume 1 - François Couperin and Pierre Du Mage


"The combination of instrument and the artist quicken high expectations. David Ponsford, much-respected expert on early keyboard music, has just published a definitive study on French baroque organ music, and brings to the repertoire a winning combination of flair and rigour. The instrument is well chosen: its sonorities are well moderated and authoritative, and Ponsford coaxes persuasive and unforced readings from it. Phrasing and ornamentation are supple, and he gives the music ample space to breathe without slackening a rhythmic spring." International Record Review

“This CD is an excellent introduction for someone who is unfamiliar with music and organs of this period. The organ is the true star here as the sounds are exceptional. Ponsford’s performances are very technically impressive…” Hannah Parry-Ridout,

"I can think of no finer disc for those who have uncovered the secrets which make this such an absorbing period of musical history. Ponsford is a wholly unpretentious, open player, keen to communicate his own love for the music, but he is also an intensely scholarly one, finding compelling solutions to the issues of ornamentation and registration. Ponsford lets the music flow with a graceful, dance-like feel, giving plenty of high drama in the big movements and delicious delicacy in the lighter ones. For many, the defining feature is the instrument itself, and, from a purely aural perspective, this seems as good as you could want. We hear all the right notes clearly and beautifully balanced. Billed as the first volume in David Ponsford's recorded survey of 'French Organ Music from the Golden Age', if this first disc is indicative of what is to follow, we are all in for a real treat as well as something of an aural eye-opener." Marc Rochester, International Record Review, April 2013

Organ of the Prytanée National Militaire, La Fleche, France
The Historical Levasseur/Dangeville Organ

From the opening of the chapel in 1622, there was a 19-stop organ with two 45-note manuals and a 10-note pedal-board. A new organ gallery was designed by architect Jacques Nadreau in 1637. While building was in progress in 1638 the Rector, Father Étienne Noël, signed a contract with carpenters Pierre Frileux and Pierre Cornet of Angers, and sculptor Mathurin Jousse, to build the organ case which exists to this day. In January 1640, the Jesuits commissioned organ-builder Ambroise Levasseur from Vervins, to restore and install the organ in the new organ case. The restoration work was extensive. The manual keyboards were extended from 45 to 48 notes and the edal-board from 10 to 17 notes; the wind-chests, valves and grooves, and the main wind-trunk of the Grand Orgue were re-leathered or rebuilt; several stops were re-voiced and some added, etc. The new organ included 28 stops spread over three manuals and pedals.

The instrument now boasted 30 stops over four manuals and pedal-board. During the Revolution, the church was used as the meeting place of the ‘Club des Jacobins,’ and then as a Temple for Republican festivals, which prevented the sale of the organ-case, but several pipes disappeared, some of which were found in the shop of a local glazier! In 1922, when Father Maurice Giraud became parish priest, only a few stops were still working. Five years later, Father Giraud asked organ-builder Tronchet, from Nogent-le-Rotrou, to assess the instrument. The latter offered to build a new instrument at the cost of 60,000 francs but the project was deemed too expensive. In 1932, after visiting the instrument, musicologist Norbert Dufourcq supported Father Giraud’s wish to save it. Following a report prepared by Félix Raugel, the instrument was listed as a ‘Monument historique’ in 1933. The original pipe-work was consequently saved. Victor Gonzalez submitted different projects, one of which was accepted in 1935. The organ was rebuilt in three successive steps in 1935, 1937 and 1947, but, although he had to keep what remained of the original pipe-work, Gonzalez made important alterations to the original disposition. He added a Tierce, a Quarte and a Bombarde in the Grand Orgue, a Cymbal in the Positif, substituted the Positif Montre with a Quintaton, revoiced the Hautboy, added a Trumpet and a Clarion ‘en chamade’ inside the organ-case, and a 16’ Contrabass and a 2’ Flute in the Pedal division. On 14 July 1947, André Marchal opened this rebuilt ‘neo-classical’ instrument. After reconstruction of the wind-chests in 1963, important repairs in the church between 1989 and 1991 rendered the protection of the organ necessary, and it was decided to rebuild it to its 17th-18th century specification at the instigation and under the supervision of André Chauvin, the organist at the time. These works were completed in January 1996 by organ builders Benoist and Sarelot, from Laigné-en-Belin, who studied all the surviving parts for the necessary restoration and rediscovery of the spirit of the historical instrument. The voicing was executed by Jean-Pierre Conan (who now looks after the instrument), and new wedge-bellows built by Chauvin from Dax replaced the Romantic reservoirs. From indications suggested by the original roller-frame, it was possible to rebuild four new keyboards matching the original disposition, and a ‘French’ pedal-board was installed. Today, the organ boasts 35 stops with 2,162 pipes, half of which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

More than a restoration, this reconstruction was – in the words of organist André Isoir – a proper ‘resurrection’. One can hear again a characteristic French ‘classical’ – or should one say ‘baroque’? – organ with a fine, silvery Plein-Jeu, a bright and powerful Grand Jeu, colourful Cornets and Jeu de Tierce, on which the music of François Couperin, Nicolas de Grigny and their contemporaries can be interpreted with authenticity. The organ of La Flèche offers the organist the rare experience of being able to perform the French repertoire of the ‘Grand Siècle’ on a beautiful musical instrument situated in an architectural surrounding perfectly suited to it.

Consultant: Pierre Dubois
Sound recording: Raymond Fenton
Organ preparation and tuning: Jean-Pierre Conan
We acknowledge with grateful thanks the permission and assistance
of the Ministère de la Défense,
and in particular the Prytanée National Militaire of la Flèche, France.
© David Ponsford 2012