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Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Symphony No 9 op 70, 'Gothique' (1895): Moderato [6'27]; Andante Sostenuto [5'15]; Allegro [3'26]; Moderato [11'32]
Symphony No 10 op 73, 'Romane' (1900): Moderato [8'25]; Choral [10'05]; Cantilene [6'11]; Final [10'56]
Jeremy Filsell, organ
Rec: 21 June 2003, St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, (Symphony 9)
20th March 2000, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, (Symphony 10) DDD
ASV CD DCA 1172 [63'05]

Some time ago, the brilliant English organist Jeremy Filsell released a CD of his own Cochereau improvisation transcriptions recorded in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. It is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant British organ discs of the decade until now. One of the reasons that it is so successful is the ingenious choice of instrument, the 1960s Walker in Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral, which manages to aesthetically match so well the sound of the post-1960s Notre Dame organ, without the claustrophia of Francois Carbou's legendary recordings. Here Filsell returns to Liverpool for a dazzling performance of Widor's masterful 10th symphony. But the difference with this CD is that the aesthetics of the music and of the chosen instruments are less happily matched.

I find the choice of organ for the 9th symphony more problematic than that for the 10th however. Another organ from the sixties, the Sydney Campbell designed Harrison at Windsor proves a less than ideal choice for Widor's music. The acoustic is relatively meagre, the foundations likewise, the reeds seem rather opaque, the tutti slightly ugly and the whole just lacking in elegance. Filsell seems ever so slightly edgy in the gorgeous Andante sostenuto, (and the solo Flute is just not voluptuous enough), and more so in the astonishingly fast fugue. True, in the 9th symphony, Widor doesn't suggest any metronome marks, but I think Filsell would struggle to argue a case for such a hectic approach. In the Romane, the Liverpool organ, in its cavernous acoustic provides a better situation; the organ is more dramatic and a touch more gallic - though still very much more Gonzales Gallic rather than Cavaillé-Coll. Interestingly Filsell plays the Romane in general with more breadth than the Gothique, and I enjoyed it much more, even if the use of the Orchestral Trumpet in the last Final is slightly crass; Cavaillé-Coll's horizontal reeds behave completely differently, complementing the tutti, rather than swamping it. On the whole though, Filsell's handing of the freedom inherent in music, due to Widor's use of the plainchant, 'Haec Dies' which permeates the entire symphony, is extremely well done.

The question of musical aesthetics and how they relate to organ aesthetics is one I return to time and again in these reviews. Jeremy Filsell could quite justifiably argue that there are already plenty of recordings of this music on the late Cavaillé-Colls for which they were written. Well, he'd be right, but there are many other fabulous organs either by Cavaillé-Coll or his contemporaries which are far less recorded. A CD of Widor's 9th and 10th symphonies from St Etienne in Caen, or on the two largest Schyven organs in Belgium - Notre Dame de Laecken and Antwerp Cathedral- would whet my appetite more than on the organs recorded here. To turn the question on its head, does that mean that Widor is the wrong music to play on these organs? I believe itís a question of circumstance. If I were to attend a recital in Windsor and Mr Filsell were to play Widor's 9th symphony I would be very happy to listen and would probably enjoy it much more. But a CD recording, which theoretically will endure repeated listening for eternity, is another matter and it is in such a circumstance that I miss the aesthetic link. That is why I believe different organs should have been chosen in this instance. Unfortunately nothing about the organs, or why they were chosen is included in the booklet. The essay by Ates Orga discusses, inevitably, the importance of Cavaillé-Coll in the creation of the music.

Despite my moans, this is worth buying due to Filsell's stunningly virtuosic playing and mastery of the music. My first choice for recordings of this literature remains Ben van Oosten's spacious and insightful readings on Dabringhaus und Grimm. But if you already have these, this would be a nice library-filler in order to hear a quite different but admirably compelling approach.

Chris Bragg



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