The choir travel to Paris to record a brand-new album of French choral works.
After a very busy year of services, concerts and recordings, the choir made their way to Paris under the searing late June sun for a truly extraordinary recording project. Rupert, our music director had spent the months prior painstakingly transcribing a virtually unknown concert mass by French composer Pierre Villette, producing a technically demanding organ reduction of the full orchestral score to accompany the choir. This Messe da Pacem was the focal point for the recording, which also featured Villete’s Hymn a la Vierge, a choral arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte and two works by Yves Castagnet, who holds the organist position at the choir organ of Notre Dame de Paris.
Before the hard work began however, the choir enjoyed a day of sightseeing around Paris, basking in the heat of a Europe - wide heatwave, but as diligent choristers we knew that hydration was key and avoided any need for medical attention whilst exploring Paris’ many cultural and architectural marvels. In the evening, we headed to the American Cathedral in Paris for a rehearsal with their organist, Andrew Dewar, who would nobly accompany the choir throughout the recording in the coming days. We would return to the cathedral the next day to sing Eucharist, but in the meantime a number of choral scholars took it upon themselves to try out some of the 20,000 or so electric scooters that one can hire to ride the streets of the city. These proved to be a constant source of (rather expensive) fun during our time in Paris, however they were hardly the safest way to explore the city…
The following day, after a successful service, we travelled to the recording venue, Notre Dame d’Auteuil, a grand and imposing Catholic Church in the Parisian village of Auteuil. The church was in a gorgeous (and typically Parisian) setting, with a cobbled square opposite and behind the church a local boulangerie, where we would congregate for morning pastries and lunchtime baguettes.
Being a British choir (with our former American Erasmus scholar, Clara, joining us for this recording), we’re used to churches being rather cooler than the outside temperature, however given the extreme heat outside, and the hot air rising from the metro line below, the temperature in the church was frequently close to 30 degrees Celsius, and rather humid with it. Despite the less than ideal conditions, we entered into the recording full of enthusiasm, especially as the organ on which Andrew would be accompanying us was a recently restored Cavaillé-Coll, a name that is likely to make any organist sit up and listen with bated breath. We were also very fortunate to have the opportunity to record with Royal Holloway alumnus, Sarah Fox, who sang the soprano solos in the Villette mass.
The next few days were very intense, everyone in the choir giving their all and consuming more water than we thought possible. As a treat for the conclusion of this remarkable project, the organist at the church, Frederic Blanc, invited us to his apartment for a post-recording soirée before dinner on our last night in the city. What makes Frederic’s apartment particularly remarkable is that is the former apartment of Maurice Duruflé, which was left to Frederic after Duruflé and his wife passed away.
Being a top floor apartment, the walk up the stairs was a punishing one, however the view of Paris from the roof terrace was certainly worth the climb. We sipped wine whilst overlooking the skyline, each landmark perfectly placed on the landscape, before Frederic gave an impromptu performance on the 3 manual pipe organ that Duruflé had squeezed into his tiny apartment, improvising on ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘La Marseillaise’. In return, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to perform some Duruflé, and through the magic of accessing scores on our phones produced a memorable rendition of Ubi caritas for all involved.
After drinks we dined together just down the street from Frederic’s apartment, and celebrated the end of the year in style. This was a truly unique and special experience for all of us involved, the likes of which we may never be fortunate enough to experience again, and we can’t wait to share this amazing music when the album is released.