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Joseph Nolan: The Organ of Saint Sulpice
Léon BOËLLMANN (1862-1897)
Suite Gothique, Op. 25 (1895) [15:55]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Sonata No.2 for organ, Op.87a (transcribed by Ivor Atkins) [13:51]
George THALBEN-BALL (1896-1987)
Poema and Toccata Beorma (1972) [11:46]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale 'Ad nos, ad salutarem undam' (To us, to the water of salvation) S259/R380 (1850); theme from Meyerbeer’s Opera: ‘Le prophète’ [31:08]
Joseph Nolan (organ)
rec. 26-27 September 2007, Saint Sulpice, Paris, France. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

This disc on Signum Classics features the wonderful sounds of the famous organ from the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris played by Joseph Nolan.
The magnificent organ case was designed by Jean Chalgrin to house the five manual organ with pedals constructed by François-Henri Clicquot in 1781. Later in 1857 organ-builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll commenced work on a new instrument that preserved much of the previous organ. 

Acknowledged as one of the world’s finest organs the 1862 Grandes Orgues de Saint-Sulpice was I believe at one time acclaimed as part of an esteemed group of three 100-stop European organs together with the Walcker organ at Ulm Cathedral, Germany and the Willis organ at St Georges Hall Liverpool, England. The Saint Sulpice organ has been played by many eminent musicians namely Marcel Dupré and Charles-Mari Widor. Camille Saint-Saëns was organist at the L'église de la Madeleine (1857-77) and it is difficult to believe that at some point he would not have played the Saint Sulpice organ. The organ in the church provides the setting for a vicious attack in the 2006 Ron Howard film The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen. 

The disc commences with a score from Léon Boëllmann a French composer/organist who is best known today for his small output for organ. Boëllmann’s most renowned work is his four movement Suite Gothique, Op. 25 completed in 1895. The final two movements are often played independently especially the brilliant Toccata. 

Elgar’s Sonata No.2 for organ, Op.87a started out its life in 1930 as the Severn Suite - a test piece for brass band. Elgar’s friend Ivor Atkins, the organist at Worcester Cathedral transcribed four movements of the piece for organ. 

George Thalben-Ball wrote his Toccata Beorma in 1972 in response to the award of an Honorary Doctor of Music from Birmingham University. The Poema was composed later and in 1980 the two scores were published together. I have greatly enjoyed the 1996 account of the Poema and Toccata Beorma played by Ian Le Grice at the Temple Church, London. Le Grice’s powerful performance is given on the Temple’s 1927 Harrison and Harrison organ, formerly located at Tabar Castle at Aboyne, on Priory Records PRCD 569. 

Liszt’s immense Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad nos, ad Salutarem, undam' (To us, to the water of salvation) uses the chorale from Meyerbeer’s successful five act grand opera Le prophète from 1849. Composed in 1850 and dedicated to Meyerbeer, Liszt swiftly capitalised on the tremendous success of Le prophète. Liszt undertook several revisions on the Fantasia and Fugue before its 1855 première performance by soloist Alexander Winterberger at Merseburg Cathedral, Germany. 

There are several splendid alternative versions of Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue in the catalogues. Andreas Rothkopf performs with drama and assurance on the Wilhelm Sauer organ of the Evangelische Stadtkirche, Bad Homburg, Germany on Naxos (see review). Hans-Jürgen Kaiser has also made a fine recording of the Fantasia and Fugue in 1997 on the Frederich Ladegast organ in Dom in Schwerin, Germany on Brilliant Classics (SACD) 92208. There is much to admire in Robert Costin’s 2007 account of the Fantasia and Fugue on the 1906 Norman and Beard organ of Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand (see review). 

On this Signum Classics disc I especially enjoyed the opening movement Introduction - Chorale of Léon Boëllmann’s Suite Gothique a splendid way for Joseph Nolan to demonstrate the power and magnificence of the Saint Sulpice organ. The marked contrast of the light and intricate Menuet Gothique displays the subtle side of the instrument. More acclaimed as an organist than noted as a composer I found Thalben-Ball’s second movement Toccata Beorma especially successful. Notwithstanding the considerable technical challenges of Liszt’s monumental Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad nos, ad salutarem undam' from Meyerbeer’s Le prophète the soloist displays a myriad instrumental colours from the spectacular to the poetic. Nolan’s interpretation is dramatic, relentlessly surging pressing the music forwards in an admirable performance. 

The gallery organ of Saint Sulpice with its 102 stops, 135 ranks and around 7000 pipes is a remarkable instrument and one of the finest I have heard on disc. Congratulations are in order for the wonderful sound quality provided by the engineers. These performances are full of spontaneity yet for all Nolan’s brilliance he allows the requirements of the composer always to take priority. The sympathy and expression that Nolan gives to this music and the assurance of his results will undoubtedly give this recital a special place amongst organ collectors.

Michael Cookson



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