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David Briggs - Mass for Notre Dame - The Oldie

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Our own great latter-day improviser – a man who in his fantasy organ world David Hyde Pierce would probably love to be – is the 47-year-old former organist of Truro and Gloucester cathedrals, David Briggs. From the age of nine Briggs was obsessed with the improvisations of Notre Dame’s great organist titulaire Piere Cochereau, many of whose improvsations Briggs has meticulously transcribed from LPs and private reel-to-reel tapes. Nowadays he wows audiences with his own organ transcriptions of such musical leviathans as Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. (For Briggs’s own recordings go to A transcription of Elgar’s Second Symphony is promised for next year’s Three Choirs Festival in Worcester.

Overarching all these achievements, however, is the Messe pour Notre-Dame, which Briggs wrote for Keynsham Parish Church in 2002 and which has recently been recorded by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under Stephen Layton (Hyperion CDA 67808). Any recording by this incomparable choir and conductor is an event, but the Briggs Messe is doubly so. It may seem overambitious to say that here is music to set beside cherished choral masterworks by Fauré, Duruflé and Briggs’s own teacher Jean Langlais – yet, believe me, one is sorely tempted to do so!

Messe pour Notre-Dame refers to elements within the thematic material which derive from Cochereau improvisations. Not that you can tell in this glorious work where Cochereau ends and Briggs begins. The performance also includes four of Briggs’s own live improvisations, ending with a blazing, earth-shaking ‘Sortie’.

Richard Osborne

David Briggs - Mass for Notre Dame
Hyperion Records CDA67808