Even though he was an admirer of Olivier Messiaen and a one-time colleague of Pierre Boulez, French composer Pierre Villette observed older traditions in his music, and wrote in a quasi-impressionistic language that incorporated both tonal harmonies and modal chants in a style reminiscent of Poulenc's or Duruflé's ecclesiastical works. Perhaps Villette's sacred music was not better known in his lifetime because of its regularity, consistency, and comprehensibility, qualities that were not provocative, controversial, or critically noteworthy; his appealing anthems were precisely the kind of music the avant-garde of the mid-twentieth century would have rejected as reactionary and irrelevant. At the turn of the twenty first century, however, his conservative traits are no longer a stumbling block, and Villette's music has found its audience at last. Thanks to the popularity of religious works in a similar vein by John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, there are many listeners who have developed an appreciation for quiet, mystical choral music, and who will take naturally to Villette's flowing melodies, rich, ringing harmonies, and benign reflections on Christian themes. Entirely respectful of Villette's intentions, Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers render such pieces as O sacrum convivium, Notre Père d'Aix, and Strophes polyphoniques pour le Veni Creator with an intriguing combination of chaste simplicity and rapt ecstasy that makes these performances and the others moving and memorable. No finer introduction to this overlooked composer can be imagined, considering the excellent singing on every track, the wonderfully resonant acoustics of the Temple Church in London, and Hyperion's transparent recording. Don't let this exceptional CD slip by.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson