Coping with crisisOrgan Musique-Musik-Muziek 1530-1660: Aude Heurtematte, organist. Instrument by Orgues Dominique Thomas. Recorded at Church of the Assumption, Champceuil, France. Raven Compact Disc – [OAR-165]. Total time 81 minutes (2 CDs for the price of 1) Price: $15.95.

This is one of those shotgun CDs that hits many different composers: Eustache Du Caurroy, Pierre Attaingnant, Jean Titelouze, Louis Couperin, Hieronymus Praetorius, Hans Leo Hassler, Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, Samuel Scheidt, and Franz Tunder. Sadly, there is not an earworm on either of the two discs, nothing hummable, nothing tunefully memorable. Heurtematte is a brilliant player, the organ is fine, the recording technicals are perfect, but …

What we have instead is an interesting pair of demo discs for the Thomas organ in Champceuil. This is not a bad thing, as the instrument is very fine, a modern instrument built in fairly strict imitation of French organs in the vicinity of Rouen in the late 16th century and early 17th century.

Titelouze was French, from Saint Omer, which in his time was a part of the Spanish-controlled Netherlands. Thus, he knew well the organ building tradition of the Netherlands. When he moved to Rouen to become titulaire of the cathedral organ, he collaborated with the builder Crespin Carlier to make the Rouen cathedral organ into an instrument largely considered the finest in the world at the time. This convolution is thoroughly explored in Douglass’ The Language of the French Classical Organ, and led to the development of the classical French organ of Couperin.

The organ was built by Manufacture d”Orgues Thomas, of Stavelot, Belgium, in 2008-10. The case incorporates an ancient reredos of the church, which at some point was moved from the east and modified to include doors into the church from under the rear gallery. The reredos included a large picture frame, which became the façade of the Positif de dos, with one large flat of pipes. The main case is more typical of French organs of the older time. The keyboards are very much in the traditional style, as well, with mechanical action, true draw knobs for the stops, and sliding keyboards to operate the “shove-couplers.” The organ has the further complication of a ravalement in the pedal, pipes at the left side of the pedalboard that operate some even lower pipes than usual. In addition, the organ is properly tuned in meantone. This would, in the usual way, make some accidentals unavailable, so there are divided keys for D-sharp/E-flat and G-sharp/A-flat throughout the range of all three keyboards and the pedal. There are the usual tremulants and a delightful rossignol stop, which has the tops of the pipes bend over and submerged in a little container of water; this produces a bird-call effect if the organist has been careful to top up the water before a performance. This is used effectively in the “Tourdion” (a dance) by Attaignant; a good choice, as the piece is not otherwise particularly organistic.

From this CD set, it is clear that the Champceuil organ is very fine. The idiosyncrasies of its tuning, keyboards, and pedal board are, as they should be, not obvious. There is pleasing variation in the wind, ample variety of French Classical stops, and a good acoustic in the church.

The entire list of compositions, as well as the stop list of the organ, is available on the site mentioned above. Unfortunately, that material is not available through when the CD is downloaded to iTunes/Music, a minor nuisance when trying to play the CD through your computer.

The builder’s website, although entirely in French, is worth looking through for the excellent rolling photos on the home page as well as the information on the page specific to Champceuil.

All in all, this is a very satisfying CD for the organ enthusiast.