Music Reviews

‘Voyage’ by Jean-Baptiste Monnot on Base2 Music

Adrian Quanjer, site reviewer at HRAudio writes about ‘Voyage’ – a “true organ-lover’s recording” from Jean-Baptiste Monnot.

‘En voyage’ avec Jean-Baptiste

Every time Base2 Music release a dedicated organ album, one can be sure that “Jacob A. Purches, Producer, recording engineer, 3D designer, audiophile and music lover”, has done all in his power to make it worth anyone’s while. He is not just a music lover, but, perhaps above all, an Organ Buff to the point that a composition of his is included in, and can stand up to the level of, the programme.  

One may wonder: Why the title ‘Voyage’? Those who know a thing or two about the French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll will tell you that these powerhouses are anything but travelling organs. Indeed, the title is taken from another organ in the church of Saint-Ouen Abbey, ‘l’orgue du voyage’, a modular organ (picture provided in the booklet) designed and built (!) by Saint-Ouen’s titular, Jean-Baptiste Monnot, which can be charged on to a small truck. Although one might feel that the techno looks of this contraption curses its sacred environment, its unexpected sound quality does not, as I discovered in the second half of the programme (tracks 8 through 13).

Jean-Baptiste Monnot playing ‘l’orgue du voyage’

What the title ‘Voyage’ may implicitly refer to as well, are the numerous visits back and forth between Rouen, France, and Jake Purches’s recording studio in Partridge Green, West-Sussex, England; all for the sake of perfecting the result to which Jake and Jean-Baptiste apparently have acted as a team.

As if this wasn’t enough: A third organ in the same church is used in track 7, Brahms’s ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’. A beautiful choir organ, built in 1856 by Joseph Merklin and modified by Hubert Kricher (1888) and George Gloton (1935/36).

A Musical Thunderstorm

The Grand ‘Symphonic’ Cavaillé-Coll Organ, built in 1890 on a pre-existing instrument, was at the time inaugurated by Charle-Marie Widor and it is only logical that this recital starts with one of his major works: The Allegro of his Sixth Symphony. Recording and mastering must have been a real artist’s job. These organs were built for big churches and not for living rooms. For prospective buyers, a warning seems wise as the sheer power risks damaging your costly speakers. At the start, there is a short 11Hz tone to activate a lazy subwoofer. With that support, the low pedal sounds come across like a succession of low- and high-pressure systems that risk creating a standing wave in your listening room. So, be careful with your sub(s), if you have any, and correct the placement of your speakers if needed.

Grand organ by Cavaillé-Coll 1890

With proper adjustments done, the listener will be rewarded by an admirably played and superbly recorded example of a major French organ composition, electronically ‘near live’ transported into your listening environment, provided your surround (preferably!) system can handle it. Another Grand French organ composer is also included in Monnot’s well-chosen recital: César Franck, once titular of the Basilica of the Sainte-Clotilde church in Paris, playing its Cavaillé-Coll organ until his death. His ‘Pièce Héroique’, recorded here, was composed or rather ‘made’ for the inauguration of such an organ, though in another place (Trocadero, Paris). 

A major part of the programme is devoted to J.S. Bach with 7 compositions divided according to best suitability over the Grand and the travelling organ. That the Cavaillé-Coll was capable of delivering a ‘romantically’ coloured Bach we knew already, and as far as I can judge, Monnot must have selected the best possible choices among the multiple available ‘timbres’ to enhance its broad and warm-sounding palette. 

A Novelty Not to be Missed

The big surprise, however, is the ‘home-made’ travelling organ. Traditionally-minded people may want to question its usefulness and appropriateness. In the words of the inventor, this organ “embodies the qualities of a traditional organ console” offering “remarkable versatility across different repertoires and musical possibilities”, clearly allowing Monnot to successfully manage several difficulties Bach demands from the interpreter. 

Organ fans should not miss the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the phenomenon of ‘l’orgue du voyage’, in particular, the benefits of having at one’s disposal such an instrument. It opens the way to bringing church organ repertoire to a large cross-section of public interest, as well as using it for educational purposes. It may not per se be suitable for the great romantic concert and symphonist range, yet for contemporary works, it seems to me a prime choice, also because it can be set in a -literally- surround position due to its modular design. It’s not by chance that it has already ‘visited’ the Louvre in Paris. 

I, for one, have listened with much pleasure and enjoyment to the travel part of the programme. Interestingly, and I suppose it’s the way Monnot used the technical possibilities of the travelling organ, it created a feel of a smallish church organ, particularly apt for some of Bach’s oeuvre. Fresh and clean, an organ that has just been tuned. A wonderful and unexpected experience. A true highlight of this new Bas2 Music release! 

That said, there is more surprise on offer. After having been at the production side of many excellent organ releases, Jake Purches turns out to be an accomplished composer with his ‘Prelude Passacaglia and Lament Op.6. It is well-constructed following traditional patterns. Sounds great on Cavaillé-Coll. It is also refreshing, at least from my perspective, to note that Jake Purches takes such a great interest in French organ culture. 

And then there is that extra element of the bats in the church. Captured during the recording sessions and made audible to the listener down-pitched 10-fold at the end of the programme. A nice touch by the producer. 

The impressive specifications of the Cavaillé-Coll organ are described on the inside of the back cover. The technically well-crafted liner notes have been written by the American composer-musicologist, Gregg Wager, accompanied by abundant illustrations.  

Monnot is rightly praised in France and elsewhere for his command of the instrument as well as his musical insight, to which I may add his engineering capabilities. With the inclusion of Bach’s works played on his patented travelling organ it is in a way a World Premiere and, therefore, unique. In my view, this release should have a place in the libraries of music schools and conservatoria. It is, from every point of view, a ‘must have’, and not only for those who care about church music. 


“Monumental, gigantic, it seems almost indestructible. However, the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Saint-Ouen abbey, a “Rolls” in harmony and sound balance, is damaged after 133 years of musical prowess. Many elements are at the end of life. There are tens of thousands of metal parts and all the leather and felt to avoid friction is worn out”, explains Jean-Baptiste Monnot, a brilliant internationally renowned instrumentalist who is the owner” (as published in Paris-Normandie 2023).           

If we can trust ‘Organ inventory in France’, it isn’t that bad. According to it, the instrument status is ‘Very good, quite playable’, but Monnot is no doubt right in his vision that regular service and replacement of used parts is a must and should be timely done and well before things break down to keep this fantastic instrument in the shape it still is. 

Given the hefty price tag of repairing and renovating the Grand Organ in Saint-Ouen, extra concerts will be given, but let us hope that sales of hard copies of this release by the ‘Association of the Abbey’ will add to the support of this noble initiative.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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