Leguay Momenti piano works Cybele SACD 162402

Jean-Pierre Leguay (b. 1939)
Momenti (2022)
Envol (2020)
Chant pour Gabriel (2015)
Chant pour Inès (2017)
Allume l‘aube dans le source (2010-12)
Sabine Sauer (piano)
rec. 2022, Bibliothekzaal der Landesakademie Oberhausen.
Cybele SACD 162402 [66]

One of the delights of following independent CD labels is discovering new names and music, and Jean-Pierre Leguay is, for me at least, an almost entirely unknown quantity. Looking into his career I wondered why this should have been the case until now. It seems his compositional output is quite rare in CD with organ improvisations and other works appearing on the Editions Hortus label but not a great deal more that appears to be widely available. Leguay is in fact a distinguished and indeed award-winning French organist who studied with the likes of Messiaen, and who was organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1985 to 2015 alongside Olivier Latry and others. There is a nice survey of this grand tradition on the Naïve label (review) which includes some of Leguay’s music.

Leguay is known as an explorer of the ‘alchemy of sound’, and his catalogue numbers around eighty works for all kinds of vocal and instrumental ensembles. The composer’s notes on these piano works are only printed in French in the booklet notes.

Jean-Pierre Leguay’s friendship and artistic collaboration with Sabine Sauer has been a long and fruitful one, culminating in Momenti, which is dedicated to her. These works are presented more or less in reverse chronological order, but Leguay’s idiom is consistent throughout. This is music with an abstract character and a poetic touch. It has a distinctive French flavour, and there are moments when colours and gestures you might associate with Messiaen shine through, though you would not be likely to confuse the two. Maybe this is a characteristic of organist composer/improvisers, but resonance, dynamic contrast and solid harmonic impact are strong features here. Leguay is not interested in lyrical quality in any conventional sense, even in pieces with Chant in the title, though these are among the more introvert and gentle of the works here. Upper notes always have a harmonic function and are linked to vertical colours or filigree gestures. Counterpoint is likewise subsumed within chord development and pianistic resonance.

All of this results in a style with an impressively monumental character. Poetic softness comes through in some of the movements in Allume l’aube dans la source, but even here the music has a sternly serious nature. We are not allowed to drift off into reverie, and the pianist’s technique is tested to the full. Not quite as translucent as Dutilleux and without the birdsong appeal of Messiaen, Leguay is a tougher nut to crack than some. His music is technically excellent, deeply involving and certainly worth investigating if you are keen on French musical élan and stunning piano playing. As ever with the Cybele label, the recording is superlative. I have only been able to listen in standard stereo, but this hybrid disc has a SACD 5.0 multichannel/binaural layer for the full immersive experience.

Dominy Clements

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