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François ROBERDAY (1624-c.1680)
Fugues et Caprices pour orgue (1660)
Fugue et caprice No.1 in g minor [7:27]
Fugue et caprice No.2 in G [4:36]
Fugue et caprice No.3 in C [6:09]
Fugue No.4 in C [3:43]
Fugue No.5 in d minor [5:04]
Fugue et caprice No.6 in d minor [5:55]
Fugue No.7 in d minor [4:30]
Fugue et caprice No.8 in a minor [5:36]
Fugue et caprice No.9 in F [5:07]
Fugue No.10 in d minor [5:16]
Fugue No.11 in d minor [4:39]
Fugue No.12 in d minor [3:04]
Gillian Weir (organ)
rec. 1973, Silbermann organ, St Leonhardskirche, Basle, Switzerland. ADD.
Reviewed as streamed in lossless sound. No booklet with separate download from 22-CD set, of which this is No.7.
ELOQUENCE 4841435 [61:06]

Australian Eloquence have recently released a 22-CD set of recordings made by Gillian Weir; the first half of the collection is taken from the recordings which she made for the Decca subsidiary Argo in the 1970s, the rest mainly from remastered BBC recordings. I had hoped to review the complete set, but I have been able only to obtain those parts of the set derived from Argo. These are also available to stream or download separately, with the original LP covers; in the complete set, each CD comes in a miniature version of the CD sleeve.

It’s a shame that not all the recordings are available separately and that they come without notes. The consolation is that you won’t have to find somewhere to house another box set, some components of which you may already have, and you should find each album in lossless sound for £8.99 from Qobuz. That’s preferable in quality to the mp3 from Amazon, though that costs only £6.99.

This Roberday album is, for me, one of the highlights. Roberday published only one work, these twelve fugues and caprices, at his own expense in 1660. That may sound as if the music wasn’t worth publishing, and it’s certainly less well-known that that of his pupil, Lully, but Gillian Weir clearly had a real affection for it, and her performance on a fine reconstruction of a Silbermann organ makes a strong case for it. When the Argo original was released in 1974 on ZRG744 even musicologists were asking who Roberday was, and, despite Weir’s advocacy, his music is still very little known. He doesn’t merit even a short entry in the Oxford Companion to Music, and biographical details are scarce. His death is given variously as c.1672, c.1680 and c.1690, and his father is described as either a silversmith or a goldsmith; in any event, he made enough money out of the family business to be able to afford to have these works published.

He tends to be regarded, where he is mentioned at all, as a transitional composer between the older French polyphonic school and later organ composers such as Grigny, Dandrieu and Marchand. Certainly, their music is more colourful than his, and Weir allows us to make comparisons: CD2 of the complete set is devoted to a selection from Dandrieu’s Premier Livre de Pièces d’Orgue, CD3 to excerpts from Marchand’s three Livres d’Orgue, and there’s music by Grigny in an eclectic programme on The Organ at Hexham Abbey, CD9 of the set. All these, like the Roberday, are available separately to stream or download. Make the comparison, and you may well decide, as I did, that Roberday is well worth hearing in his own right, not just from historical interest.

Half of the fugues in the collection are complemented with caprices: Nos. 1-3, 6, 8 and 9. These are faster sections based on the material in the preceding fugue, and they leaven the generally serious impression of the music. A good example is No.9 where, almost exactly at the half-way mark, the music perks up, the brighter, dance-like, mood matched by Weir’s use of brighter registration.

These Roberday works were released on an earlier Eloquence album, one of five CDs originally boxed and then offered separately, but no longer available. If I have one reservation about the new release, it’s that a degree of reshuffling, to match the original LPs, has shortened what was the third of those CDs, on 4601882. As reviewed by Chris Bragg, the Roberday was followed by music by Jean Langlais (now restrored to CD 9 in the new set) and Samuel Scheidt (now reunited with Bruhns on CD1).

CB singled out the Roberday for special mention – ‘what an astonishing body of work this is’ – and I’m in total agreement. For Weir herself, playing this music seems to have been a voyage of discovery, the result of sifting through a pile of unknown music and a spur-of-the-moment decision to play it.

Even now this is almost the only recording of this music. Astrée released a set performed by Michel Chapuis on the organ of Saint Jean Baptiste, Roquemaure, now download only, and a budget-price Harmonia Mundi Organs of Provence, features Nos. 3, 5, 9 and 12 (HMA195760). Chapuis is generally lighter on his feet – and fingers – markedly so in some of the works, and his recording may therefore seem more attractive, but he misses the contrast between the fugues and caprices, which is better brought out by Weir.

The 1973 recording has come up well in this transfer, but the lack of a booklet is to be deplored.  The fact that it happens all too often is no excuse.

Singling out this recording is in no way meant to downplay the value of the rest of the set. I certainly don’t want to deter potential buyers of the CDs, but this download is rather special in that it makes an excellent case for an unjustly neglected composer.

Brian Wilson

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