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Alexandre GUILMANT (1837 - 1911)
Allegro Op.81 (1894)
Marche Fantaisie Op.44 (1875)
Meditation sur le Stabat Mater Op.63 (1884)
Final alla Schumann Op.83 (1895)
Symphony No.l in D minor Op.42 (1874, rev. 1877)
Leon BOËLLMANN (1862 - 1897)
Fantaisie Dialoguee Op.63 (1896)
François-Joseph FÉTIS (1784 - 1871)
Fantasie Symphonique (1866)
Franz Hauk (organ)
The Ingolstadt Philharmonic/Olaf Koch
Recorded Ingolstadt August 1995
GUILD MUSIC GMCD 7215 [73:44]
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Alexandre Guilmant, who, with Vincent d'Indy, was one of the founders of the Schola Cantorum, was also a major exponent of the French organ revival in the mid-19th Century. As the works recorded in this intelligently planned programme show, he was also a very distinguished composer.

The Allegro Op. 81 is a brilliant Toccata for organ and orchestra whereas the Marche Fantaisie sur deux Chants d'Eglise Op. 44 is somewhat lighter in mood. The expressive mood is rather restrained for the first third of the piece. Then, a mighty crescendo leads to a powerful peroration when both themes combine to great effect. By contrast, the beautiful Meditation sur le "Stabat Mater" Op. 63 unfolds peacefully throughout. This is a little gem. Final alla Schumann sur un Noel languedocien is either a light-hearted homage to the German composer or an affectionate pastiche. In any case it is a delightful short work with a good deal of humour, something you would not readily associate with music for organ and orchestra. The Symphony No. 1 in D minor Op. 42 is undoubtedly a major work. This, a reworking of Guilmant's Organ Sonata Op.42, was first performed in 1878. The First Symphony is in three movements: the Introduction et Allegro opens with a vigorous, declamatory passage leading into the Allegro section based on two main subjects that make for much of the symphonic argument. (The second subject is redolent of Franck.) The beautiful Pastorale is quite simply one of Guilmant's most ravishing inventions. No wonder that this exquisite movement was encored at the first performance. The conclusion is another brilliant, lively Toccata. For anecdote's sake, it may seem curious that Guilmant dedicated his First Symphony to Leopold II, king of Belgium, whose rather unenthusiastic attitude to music ("expensive noise") is well-known. However Guilmant's First Symphony unquestionably ranks with the finest works ever written for organ and orchestra. A real masterpiece.

Leon Boëllmann is generally best-known for his Suite Gothique for organ and may also be remembered for his beautiful Variations Symphoniques for cello and orchestra which Paul Tortelier recorded years ago. His lovingly crafted Fantaisie Dialoguée Op.63 of 1896 is a quite likeable piece - well worth hearing. It opens with a powerful introduction leading into a more flowing theme. The music then develops into a playful Scherzo. A restatement of the main theme leads to a rousing apotheosis - quite impressive in its short length.

Though he played a considerable role in the then young Belgian musical life (he became the first head of the Brussels Conservatoire), Fétis may not have been a great composer, though a quite competent one. His Fantaisie Symphonique of 1866 was written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Science in Brussels and its first performance also coincided with the inauguration of the new organ of the concert hall of the Brussels Conservatoire. Fétis was never one to shy from writing the big celebratory piece and the orchestra at the time of the first performance of the Fantaisie Symphonique included 90 strings! Fétis's music has been much influenced by German composers, including Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and this particular piece is a good example of his well-crafted, though at times eclectic music: the first movement, adhering roughly to the symphonic allegro pattern, is followed by a song-like Andante con Variazioni. The last movement is a grand finale with sonorous hunting horns and thunderous organ chords.

The present release is most welcome. All this music is rarely heard, if at all, in concerts. The Guilmant works and the piece by Boëllmann are very fine and deserve to be better known, while Fétis's work may be more of historical than musical interest but nevertheless well worth the occasional hearing. All of the performances are strong: Franz Hauk is superbly supported by the Ingolstadt Philharmonic conducted by Olaf Koch. Recording works for organ and orchestra may often be rather tricky. However the recording team here worked wonders in coping with the reverberant nave of Ingolstadt Munster.

Full marks to all concerned. Really well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

See also review by Raymond Walker

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