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Franck: L'Oeuvre vocale avec orgue Vol. 1 - Tétu

Franck: L'Oeuvre vocale avec orgue Vol. 1 - Tétu

Aeolus  AE-10013

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Franck: Quare fremuerunt gentes, Veni creator, Quae est ista, Offertoire pour orgue, O Salutaris, Ave Maria, Tantum ergo, Domine Deus in simplicitate, Andantino pour orgue, Domine non secundum, O salutaris

Katia Velletaz (soprano)
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (tenor)
Stephan MacLeod (bass)
Solistes de Lyon
Maîtrise du CPM de Genève
Diego Innocenzi (organ)
Bernard Tétu (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - January 3, 2008

The Belgian César Franck spent most of his working life in Paris. He is well-known for a handful of orchestral and chamber works, as well as some stunning concert organ pieces. The organ music has been getting quite a bit of attention on SACD in the last few years. However, there is another facet of Franck's work which is almost unknown. He spent a great deal of his time working in several Parisian churches, composing and playing liturgical music for voices as well as organ. Little of this music was officially published but it became very popular in the many new churches which were built in the city and its hinterland, around the middle of the C19th. Many critics refused to believe that music of such high quality could have been composed by such a well-known figure, considering work-a-day liturgical music as beneath the dignity of great artists. Franck ignored such conventions, and produced a large output of a consistently high quality for his parishioners.

Rémy Campos and Diego Innocenzi have spent years researching and tracking down editions of these works, and together with conductor Bernard Tétu and his Solistes de Lyon have produced this first SACD in a series from Aeolus. The present volume consists of works played at the Offertory of the Mass, and vocal works for specific feast days are interspersed with organ solos which were played when the choir was absent.

Working with the resources of churches like St Sulpice and Sainte-Clothilde, most of the works involve a 3-part mixed voice chorus, sometimes with soloists, with organ and double-bass, the latter standing in for the serpent, a now defunct bassoon-like instrument once beloved by Hector Berlioz, in the early C19th. one of the works also features a harp; another a solo cello. The organ selected is a Cavaillé-Coll in St. François-de-Sales, Lyon - a medium-sized instrument of the type played by Franck in his various church employments.

It is immediately clear that this project represents a deep commitment and affection for the music from the performers, recording engineers and from conductor Tétu himself. The greatest care has been taken to represent the music as it would have sounded to the congregations where Franck worked. The listeners would certainly have had their devotions enhanced by the limpid beauty and simplicity of the music, which although sweet is never sentimental, and has drama without artifice where the texts demand it. Franck himself was a great supporter of an official drive to 'purify' the liturgical music in French churches at the time, casting out an accumulation of operatic and popular song influences for the purity of plainchant and more simple compositions which focussed on devotion and piety rather than vulgar sensuality.

These Offertoire pieces are unfailing melodious and fresh-sounding, beautifully crafted to make the most of the texts and superbly sung by the medium-sized chorus, where the children's voices of the Geneva Conservatory are a particular delight. The soloists are also excellent: soprano Katia Velletaz has a darker tone verging on the contralto which sets beautifully against the children's sound; bass Stephan MacLeod has a light lyrical tone which sounds authoritative but not operatic, and tenor Emiliano Gonzalez is agile and secure. The organ registrations often favour the reeds, recalling the frequent use of a harmonium which was popular for choir practice at the time, but at climaxes the colours of the Cavaillé-Coll are well in evidence. Most satisfactory are the very deep pedal notes from the 32' rank, which are captured superbly by the DSD recording, even though it is 5.0 multichannel. The balancing itself is exemplary, with the choir and soloists clearly located in a group spread before the organ and surrounded by a lovely church acoustic, with no details blurred.

Everything about this production is of a very high standard. The card gatefold presentation is very well designed and illustrated in colour and B&W with session photos, facsimilies of editions and organ photographs, not to mention a beautiful front cover. Rémy Campos and Diego Innocenzi provide an excellent essay on the context of the music, and there are biographies of the musicians and a specification of the organ in French, German and English.

This is a recording to cherish and I look forward to future issues in this series. Bravo Aeolus!

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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