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Virtuoso French Organ Music
Léon BOELLMANN (1862-1897)

Suite Gothique, Op.25 (1895)
1. I. Introduction-Choral Prelude [2.06]
2. II. Menuet Gothique [2.37]
3. III. Prière à Notre-Dame [3.48]
4. IV. Toccata [3.51]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)

5. Cantilène Pastorale (1861) [6.16]
6. March on ‘Lift up your Heads’ (1861) [6.42]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
7. Improvisation No.7 (1917) [3.38]
Lois VIERNE (1870-1937)
8. Impromptu, Op.54, No.2 (1927) [3.32]
9. Clair de Lune, Op.53, No.5 (1926) [8.34]
10. Divertissement, Op.31, No.11 (1914) [2.05]
11. Carillon de longpont, Op.31, No.21 (1914) [4.00]
Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1992)
Triptyque (1957)
12. I. Melody [4.03]
13. II. Trio [4.45]
14. III. Final [4.47]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)

15. Toccata in B minor (1890) [3.12]
16. Scherzo (1890) [4.50]
17. Grand Choeur Dialogué (18810 [6.18]
Jennifer Bate (Organ)
Organ of St Pierre de Beauvais Cathedral (Danion-Gonzalez,1979)
Recorded at St Pierre de Beauvais Cathedral, September 1982
REGIS RRC 1147 [75.45]

 

The French organ school between the middle of the 19th century and the end of the 20th century is amongst the most memorable. During this period many French organist-composers flourished and influenced each other. This CD presents the ‘junior contemporaries of Franck’ as the well-presented booklet informs us. From Saint-Saëns to Langlais there are close links from one generation to the next. Boellmann was a pupil of Gigout. Guilmant was a co-student with Widor, another significant organist-composer, who introduced the later Vierne to the tradition of the French symphonic organ school. More recently, Langlais, a co-student with Messiaen, successfully continued the long French tradition. These composers were influenced by the organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, built in many significant churches in Paris. These include Notre-Dame, Saint-Trinité and Saint Clotilde.

The restored organ by Danion-Gonzalez with a further 11 new stops has the characteristic rich and ‘round’ sound of a French romantic organ, blending with the ‘delicate sonorities’ of the past centuries. The big and wonderful acoustics of the Cathedral ‘enhances the sounds without impairing their color or clarity throughout the vast building, which contains the highest nave in Europe’.

The Suite Gothique remains the most famous work of Boellmann especially the concluding Toccata - brilliant though not technically difficult.. The Cantilène Pastorale is dedicated to Guilmant’s father. The March on ‘Lift up your Heads’ uses the same title-theme from Handel’s Messiah. The Improvisation in A minor is the last piece of the seven improvisations Op.150, dedicated to Gigout. Vierne’s Impromptu is a scherzo piece that asks for sort of the fluidity associated with pianistic technique and blended successfully with the organ colors. Clair de Lune is dedicated to the American organ-builder Ernest Skinner and presents a nice vocal melody. The Divertissement is a fluid Allegro dedicated to Joseph Bonnet, organist and composer and the Carillon de Longpont is the ‘earliest of several bell pieces by Vierne, based on the chime of the bells of the chapel at the Chateau of Longpont’. The pieces contained in Op.31 are marked for ‘organ or harmonium’ but there is a given organ registration for manuals and pedal. The Triptyque is dedicated to another significant French composer, Maurice Duruflé with each of the three pieces thematically independent. Gigout’s Toccata in B minor can stand among similar compositions by Widor or Boellmann. The Scherzo, from the same collection of Ten pieces, is more picturesque. The Grand Choeur Dialogue is a piece that produces the effect of two organs in antiphonal conversation.

The recorded sound is well balanced and extremely detailed in spite of the big acoustics of the cathedral and its four minute reverberation. As a result Bate offers the listener a kaleidoscope of warm sounds and color. All the works are performed with confidence and virtuosic precision. The shaping is well handled with all necessary breathing and musicality. What is extremely impressive in this CD is the control of rhythm and tempos giving the feeling of an orchestra playing. Thus the symphonic character of some of the pieces comes out perfectly. The sound is fresh although these recordings date from the early 1980s. It is hugely enjoyable and highly recommended.

Christina Antoniadou

 



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