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GUILMANT, WIDOR, FRANCK  * Organ Works - Guilmant, Symphony No.2, Widor, Symphony No.3, Franck, Choral No.2 for Organ.   Ian Tracy: organ - Yan Pascal Tortelier - BBC Philharmonic   CHANDOS CHAN9785 * [71:39]

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This disc continues the survey begun by Tortelier with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos CHAN9271, an issue featuring organ music by Guilmant, Widor and Poulenc. The three works here are all by composers who knew each other and were, in a small geographical area of Paris, responsible for the development of the French organ symphony tradition. The lives of these men, and other composer organists involved in the tradition were, as the very useful booklet notes by Joe Riley point out, directly interconnected. They were friends and colleagues, and so this well chosen programme has the advantage of presenting a portrait of a wider musical world than that one any one composer.

The disc begins with Guilmant's Symphony No.2 for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 91, an orchestral transcription of the composer's Sonata No.8 for Organ. This symphony dates from 1906, is in 5 movements, and offers a concentrated distillation of much of late romanticism, with, as it were, the fat nicely trimmed off. By 1:29 the opening Allegro has built to a first pinnacle of neo-Wagnerian grandeur, though the music soon develops more formally, drawing on an older musical world from Handel to Beethoven. The writing is vivacious, dramatically assured with the organ adding weight to the arguments of the oftentimes carefree orchestra, the whole cheerfully free of fin de siècle angst. Afer this 9-minute showcase comes an instantly attractive Adagio con affetto the organ introducing a melancholy theme in the high registers, the orchestra transforming it into a sombre fantasia which should find favour with aficionados of Fauré. The woodwinds flirt deliciously with the strings in the jolly waltz-like Scherzo, the organ taking a supporting role under the brief Andante movement. Now we are reminded that Guilmant's had for three decades from 1871 served as organist at Trinité, for here is a hymnal section, a short meditation developing into more forward-looking harmonies than permeate the rest of the symphony. The final Internède et Allegro con brio returns to the robustly confident world of the opening and we are left with the certainty that while this was a late work written when the composer was 69, he lack no youthful energy or optimism.

Franck's solo Choral No.2 in B minor concludes the disc and is another late work, this time written in 1890, the last year of the composer's life. In a single movement, lasting just over 13 minutes in this performance, it is an epic passacaglia. A work of considerable majesty, utterly confident in its own vision of an ordered universe, and seemingly with ambitions to circumscribe everything of import within that universe. It is a weightily assured piece, and if one regrets that some definition of sound is lost in the ambience of Liverpool Cathedral, Ian Tracy is as committed and in control here as he is in the two orchestral symphonies.

Occupying centre stage is Widor's Symphony No.3 for Organ and Orchestra, Op 69. Of similar duration to the Guilmant, Widor's symphony is in two expansive movements. Again we are in a late romantic world, and the Adagio-Andante-Allegro movement opens with brooding uncertainty. Like a ship leaving harbour and seeking the wind, the sails gradually unfurl until with a blaze of fire we are rushing full ahead. Perhaps the programmatic analogy is unfair to the composer, but with a century of hindsight this sounds like nothing so much as rousing sea music, full of adventure and sunlight on the waves, but with deeper, perhaps more perilous undercurrents. Once the Andante arrives the organ seems to be offering a prayer, while the orchestra is still determined to frolic with the merfolk. The dangerous consequences inevitably arrive and the music takes a more threatening edge before settling into a reflective and melodically rich Allegro. The second movement is headed Vivace-Tranquillamente-Allegro-Largo and offers more high spirits which might these days summon visions of wildly dancing broomsticks. This is generous, warm-hearted music which could leave the cynic sneering but which will offer a great deal of pleasure to everyone else. The finale especially, is so rousing as to be able to stand for a new dictionary definition of the word.

The fine Chandos sound can barely be faulted, excepting the slight lack of detail already noted. The players respond with real joy and vigour, and all three works are highly recommendable, with the Widor being an especial delight.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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