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Jeanne Demessieux plays the Hamburg Organs

Trumpet Tune [3'01]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Preludium und Fuge in a moll BWV 543 [10'04]
Choralvorspiel Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier [4'12]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Prelude, fugue et variation [10'09]
Jean BERVEILLER (1904-1976)

Mouvement [2'17]
Jeanne DEMESSIEUX (1921-1968)

Te Deum op11 [7'50]
Consolateur, (Sept Meditations) [6'57]
Etude en Tierce [3'39]
Improvisation uber den Choral, 'O grosser Gott der Treu' (J.S. Bach, Cantata 146) [7'44]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)

Dieu Parmi Nous, (La Nativité) [7'11]
Jeanne Demessieux, organ
Rec. St Sophienkirche, St Michaeliskirche, Christianskirche, Hamburg, May 1959, November 1962, June 1958 ADD
FESTIVO 6961.862 [71'00]


Festivo have championed a number of old recordings of the enigmatic Jeanne Demessieux by making them available again, in remastered form. These have included her complete Franck cycle recorded at La Madeleine in late 1950s. In the present release, the fourth in the series entitled The Legendary Jeanne Demessieux, her recordings for the Norddeutschen Rundfunk are the focus. These were made during three separate trips to Hamburg on recently built or rebuilt organs.

Most interesting here are the recordings of Demessieux playing her own music, especially her spiky rendition of the Te Deum. All the material here is valuable in its own right though. It is astonishing that a Parisian organist of Demessieux's generation could produce such a well balanced Bach Prelude and Fugue for instance. Her Franck playing, as on her recording of the complete works, is an interesting paradox of flowing lines and sometimes extreme rubato which occasionally halts the flow. In general it is notable how much more freedom Demessieux took when performing other people's music than her own. Also puzzling is her Messiaen; this is probably the fastest recording of the piece ever made, yet dates from just two years later than the composer's own, admittedly idiosyncratic, recording which lasts nearly 2 minutes longer.

The organs in general didn't serve her well. The first is a Kemper organ, then brand new; the Franck is played on a huge Steinmeyer, also brand new when recorded. The remainder is played on a much altered 17th/18th century organ, which had just been rebuilt for the by von Beckerath, (the booklet doesn't tell us this, why not?). This instrument has recently been completely replaced. In general the organs sound typically thin, in stark contrast to the voluptuous sounds of the early Cavaillé-Coll in the Madeleine, where Demessieux was titulaire. One should also note that around the same time, a certain E. Power Biggs was already making pioneer recordings in nearby Neuenfelde .....

These recordings offer a fascinating insight into a unique character, tragically taken from the organ world far too early. Festivo are to be commended for galvanising public awareness of the art of Jeanne Demessieux with this aural tribute. I am not aware whether my favourite Demessieux recording has yet been re-issued. This is an LP of two Handel organ concertos, in improbably grand performances with the Orchestra of the Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet, recorded in Victoria Hall in Geneva. Demessieux is in full-flight here, cadenzas and all, at the old Ziegler organ. My cherished mono copy, released by Decca, at a guess in the late 1950s, has the number LXT 2759. I hope Festivo can do the honours!

Chris Bragg

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