, February 2001
"This disc of music for choir and organ by French composer Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864-1955) is doubly welcome, first, obviously, for the quality of the music it brings, and second, because if it betokens a serious interest on the part of Marco Polo in investigating this literature, we can look forward to the rediscovery of at least something of an enormous volume of completely forgotten music. If it's even half as good as the CD to hand we can expect some real gems. Ropartz studied first with Massenet and then shifted to the more severe Franck so as to get a more rigorous training - he was not a man for show, and the sobriety and dedication of his art are perfectly showcased by the three Missae breves (i.e., no Credo) and 10 motets here. If you know the chorus-and-organ version of the Faure Requiem and can imagine it with its touch of melodic luxe replaced by a more austere, more dignified manner, you'll have something of the flavor. Much of it is very beautiful, but in an utterly undemonstrative way: "Beata es Virgo Maria," the fourth of the Five otets, for example, is meltingly lovely, but not because of any Pucciniesque come-and-get-me tune; indeed, the melodies themselves are not particularly memorable. Its what Ropartz does with the harmony that is so telling, turning a passage based on relatively straightforward thematic material into something exquisite. There are moments of strength, too, though they are infrequent: After all, this is music written for active use in the church (Ropartz was a committed Christian), not for the concert hall, so its moments of drama are few and far between, and when they come, the tone is a kind of domestic-heroic - his eschewing of falsehood extends to the grand manner as well.
"Michel Piquemal and his vocal ensemble provide workmanlike accounts of the music, ably supported by Eric Lebrun on the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Église de Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts in Paris. The choir doesn't have too bright a sound, which might have made some of the textures more telling; perhaps it needs a few more young voices. Since so much of the music tends to gloom, in any case, a more forthright approach might have made an even better case for it. But the performances are perfectly adequate (I'm just wishing alound for icing on the cake), and will give you a reasonable picture of these gentle gems. And I ought to be grateful to have the recording in the first place. The sound is fine, and Mathieu Ferey's notes provide a concise but well-informed guide to Ropartz's career and the music on the disc. Recommended."