Much less well known than his contemporary Couperin, perhaps because he died at age 31, Nicolas de Grigny is in need of additional exploration from organists and recording firms. The situation takes a major turn for the better with this double-album release from organist Olivier Vernet, playing a historical organ at the Saint-Antoine l'Abbaye in Isère, France. This splendid instrument itself should furnish discussion material for organ specialists, but the music more generally is of great interest to general listeners and is likely to be unfamiliar for many. Oversimplifying broadly, plainchant plays the role in de Grigny's organ music that the Lutheran chorale plays in Bach's, and it is not surprising to learn from the involved but useful notes (in French and English, except for the material about the organ, which is in French only) that the young Bach copied out some of de Grigny's music, even though their styles are very different. The mass on disc 1 and the hymns on disc 2 differ in layout but not in broad details of style. Essentially both involve settings in which chant melodies alternate with polyphonic treatments of those melodies on the organ. The appeal of the music lies in the towering complexity of those polyphonic treatments, combined with a feeling of deep spirituality established at the outset. If you can imagine Bach as a French Catholic, operating in a musical world still ruled by plainchant, you have an idea of what this is like. Offbeat but definitely recommended.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
|Messe Cunctipotens Genitor Deus|
2. Gloria. Intonation: Gloria in excelsis Deo / Et in terra Pax..., Et in terra pax à 5 / Laudamus te, plain-chant
2. Gloria. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei..., Récit de tierce en taille / Qui tollis...misere..., plain-chant