> Canticum: French organ music Hakim [ChA]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Organ works by: 1-2. César FRANCK (1822-1890): Choral No. 3 in A minor (Trois chorals), Cantabile (Trois pièces), 3-4. Louis VIERNE (1870-1937): Carillon de Westminster (Pièces de Fantaisie pour grand orgue, 3ème Suite, Op. 54, 6ème pièce), Étoile de Soir (Pièces de Fantaisie pour grand orgue, 3ème Suite, Op. 54, 3ème pièce), 5-6. Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991): Te Deum (Trois Paraphrases Grégoriennes, 3ème pièce), Ave Maria, ave maris stella, 7-8: Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992): Dieu parmi nous (La Nativité du Seigneur, Neuf Méditations pour orgue, 4ème livre), Prière après la Communion (Livre du Saint Sacrement), 9-27. Naji HAKIM (1955-): Canticum, Pange Lingua
Naji Hakim, Organist
Grand orgue by: Cavaillé-Coll, 1868, Church of La Sainte-Trinité, Paris, France
Recorded: March 1997, Church of La Sainte-Trinité, Paris, France
EMI CLASSICS CZS572272 2 3 [74.01]


The most remarkable feature of this ’debut’ EMI recording is the ideal match of the selected performed pieces with the Cavaillé-Coll organ of La Trinité. Another remarkable feature is the various links between the composers, who contribute, each one separately, to the tradition of French organ music.

Almost a century and a half of French organ music is explored in this CD, beginning with César Franck. Franck served as organist at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde and it was at his advice that the new Cavaillé-Coll organ was installed there in 1859. He also helped with the installation of other Cavaillé-Coll organs, including that of La Trinité. His Choral in A min (1890) is ‘related in form to Liszt’s one movement sonata’, as the booklet inform us, whereas the Cantabile (1878) is an expressive poem that reveals the romantic character of the French symphonic organ.

Louis Vierne, who was a pupil of Franck, served as an organist in Notre Dame, where Cavaillé-Coll also installed one of his organs. The Pièces de Fantaisie explore the colours of the Cavaillé-Coll and captivate the listener with the simplicity of their form and the beauty of their melodies.

Three generations after Franck, Jean Langlais was appointed organist at Saint Clotilde in 1945. He was influenced by this organ, which he called his ‘mistress’. The performed Pieces (1935) are based on the plainchants that he loved so much and they are, by turns, tonal and modal. They are also rich in harmonic and contrapuntal means.

Messiaen, who was a schoolmate and a friend of Langlais, followed a different compositional path, developing his own modal system. His compositions were influenced usually by religious themes and unfolded an irregular rhythmic system. Dieu parmi nous is the last piece of the cycle La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of our Lord - 1935). It is one of the most well known pieces, dealing with three themes before the final blasting toccata on the initial theme. Prière après la communion is a ‘melodic garland’, on two keyboards, from Messiaen’s last organ work, the Livre du Saint Sacrement (1984).

Naji Hakim, a student of Langlais and successor of Messiaen at La Trinité in 1993, is ‘the most important representative in the last twenty years of the great French tradition of organist-composer-improviser’. Canticum Suite is a paraphrase of the hymn Conditor alme siderum, the chant Rorate coeli desuper and the anthem O Emmanuel. It presents sharp, virtuosic rhythmic figures. Pange Lingua is a set of variations based on the chant with the same name. A very charming piece indeed.

The Cavaillé-Coll organ of La Trinité was completed in 1868. Much of its present aesthetic direction is owed to Messiaen, who asked, while organist there, for the addition of a ‘spectrum of harmonic timbres: mutations, mixtures and reeds, which enabled new means of expression to be explored’.

In this CD Hakim, the organist, succeeds only occasionally in capturing the spirit of the music. The performances of the Franck’s pieces lack a legato line, resulting in a dry, cold effect. Also the sharp cuttings of phrases where more time and weight is needed rather spoil the balance of the melodies. On the other hand, in Messiaen’s pieces he gives a very flowing legato line, with the appropriate rhythmic sharpness and punctuality that characterizes his playing generally. Vierne’s pieces are performed with sensitivity and accuracy, although they tend to be sometimes too metronomic. The Langlais performances are the least persuasive. They lack poise and a good control of the different tempi. As for the Hakim pieces, who would know better than the composer himself, how his pieces should go?

Christina Antoniadou

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