Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Masterworks for organ and orchestra
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)

Allegro pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op81
Marche Fantaisie sur deux chantes d'eglise pour Orgue, harpes et Orchestre
Méditation sur le Stabat Mater pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op63
Final alla Schumann sur un Noël Languedocieu, Op83
Symphony No.1 pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op42

Léon BOELLMANN (1862-97)
Fantaisie Dialoguée pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op35
François-Joseph FÉTIS (1784-71)
Fantaisie-Symphonique pour Orgue et Orchestre
Franz Hauk organ Ingolstadt Philharmonic/Olaf Koch
GUILD GMCD7215 [73.44]

GUILMANT is one of the important classicists in French organ music. He was a versatile composer who kept close ties with other composers of his generation. It comes as no surprise that there are similarities between Guilmant and Saint-Saëns in style of composition. As a church organist most of his works started as organ sonatas which were later developed and arranged for orchestra. As the very first French concert organist he toured America, Russia, Spain, Italy and England. He often used Gregorian melodies and choral motifs as thematic material. Although he wrote eight organ symphonies of some worth these have sunk unfairly into obscurity; only the name of Widor in this connection has been carried through the 20th Century.

The Allegro, Op81 (1894) begins in stately fugato style which develops into a busily, bright and well-crafted concerto movement. The closing passage carries similarities of the Saint-Saëns 'Organ' Symphony written eight years earlier.

The Marche Fantaisie (1875) is based on two lightly contrasting subjects on a pleasant Baroque-style theme which weaves graciously throughout. Both subjects are initially introduced separately and in great detail and later confront each other in dialogue form. A final fugato builds to a crescendo of orchestra and two rippling harps - sadly the orchestration (or engineering) does not allow a worthwhile contribution by the harps until the closing bars.

The Méditation, Op63 (1884) is a ponderous piece with meandering strings which link elements of Gregorian Chorale to the classicistic tonal language. The introductory recitative oboe passages are reminiscent of opera influences in that the style has perhaps a Verdian leaning.

The Final alla Schumann sur un Noël Languedocieu, Op83 (1895) is a lively rhapsody based on two French carols. The piece is powerful and appealing.

His Symphony No.1 pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op42 (1878) is better known since recordings have been available in Britain since 1988 and in 1993 the BBCPO included the symphony in a new CD. The work started life as one of Guilmant's organ sonatas. It is likely that the orchestral version was expressly written for the Paris World Exhibition of 1878. Written in three movements (Allegro, Pastorale, and Allegro assai) in the tradition of Beethoven and Berlioz it contains stretching lyrical parts which form an effective contrast to the main emotional idea of the first movement. The highly appealing second movement (encored at its première) carries a light and calm melody in which a few choral motifs flow. The third movement is shaped by a quick toccata motion, again contrasted by a chorale-like subject. The powerful closing section is something worthy of Mahler, perhaps.

Guilmant's compositions are traditionally scored with lyrical melodies which are melodiously light and refreshingly delicate. He is a composer with a good command of orchestral scoring and dynamics, particularly in the strings sections yet in these tracks under-uses his woodwind.

BOËLLMANN was born only 25 years after Guilmant yet we can tell from the composition on this CD that he has a more modern approach to his writing. Like Guilmant, Boëllmann occupied a position as organist of another Paris church. He finished his studies with a number of first prizes for his skills in composition. He was held in high esteem by Parisians as a pianist and organist and described as a neo-classicist by his contemporaries who favourably received his forty or so compositions.

His Fantaisie Dialoguée pour Orgue et Orchestre, Op35 (1896) is a powerful piece and has a ring of Wagner about it. It opens with a clear well rhythmed subject which is developed and then turns into a kind of delicate scherzo. This work also contains lyrical melodies and an influence from the opera and ballet. Contrasts are provided which gradually intensify to lead to a finale climax.

FÉTIS is the earliest of our composers and studied at the Paris Conservatoire before becoming organist at Douai in 1813. Fétis is more widely known for the set of music textbooks he published rather than his achievements as a first-class composer. This is a pity because he deserves to be more widely heard and maybe the series of Guild CDs will provide it. His musical works are frothy, catchy and imaginatively written: to me they prove that Fétis is a virtuoso master of composition. Stylistically, Fétis expands on the forms used by Mozart and Beethoven, coupled with the romanticism of Mendelssohn.

The Fantaisie-Symphonique pour Orgue et Orchestre (1866) is recorded as being among his masterpieces; and a masterpiece it is, too. His aim was a kind of symphony in which two sounding bodies were supposed to fight a battle between two large orchestras. In the brilliant opening movement, organ and orchestra are dramatically juxtaposed. A frothy song-like andante with variations rising to brilliant figures follows an intonation in the wind section. A middle recitative-style passage leads to a virtuoso finale with hunting motifs provided by horns and lovely dialogues provided between woodwind and organ. The finale is reminiscent of opera tradition.

This disc of lesser known French and Belgium composers is very appealing and highly recommended. Despite the background of these composers they never score the organ for solo passages. The instrument is always skilfully scored to add another dimension of colour and is never obtrusive. The Swiss Ingolstadt Philharmonic orchestra plays confidently and under Olaf Koch's direction the forces of organ and orchestra are pleasantly blended. The Notes make interesting reading and give ample historical detail. Full specifications for both organ and engineering are provided.

The Guild CD should be nominated for Gramophone's Technical Award for its clarity of recording. The orchestral sections are well focused and the location is ideally sonorous. The reverberation time on the final chords is truly amazing and enhances orchestral timbre superbly.

Raymond Walker

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