Vierne, best known as a writer of organ music - perhaps
remembered in a single sweep with Widor, was by no means an exclusively
'organ loft' composer. His Symphony and the song cycle Spléens
et Détresses were recorded by the ORTFSO conducted by Georges
Tzipine in the early 1970s. Those recordings are now accessible via
the Timpani label.
This Pierre Vernay CD introduces us to his troubled
chamber music. It is no wonder that the Piano Quintet is as disturbing
as it is. It was written in the year after his seventeen year old son's
death. He had given parental consent to his son, Jacques, joining up
and he was racked with guilt when his son was killed inaction. He wrote
to a friend that he was writing a 'quintet of vast proportions to convey
the inspiration born of my tenderness and my child's tragic death.'
Its point of departure is surely Franck but the overlay is much more
personal with both caressing moments, anguish and anger. It is instructive
to compare this expression with Bliss's Morning Heroes and Frank
Bridge's Piano Sonata and Concerto Elegiaco - each works linked
with family deaths or the deaths of friends brought about by the Great
War. Vierne does not stray from tonality. At track 3 6.20 bereavement
and the ghostly joy of memory of summer's days is almost tangible. His
brother René was also killed during the last two years of the
The rich harmony and melodrama encountered in the Quintet
are also at work in the String Quartet. This was written while Vierne
was studying in Widor's class at the Conservatoire. It is a work of
pleasing promise. From this point of view it is good to have it here
as a way-marker for Vierne's development. It is however rather Mendelssohnian
with some inflections absorbed from knowledge of Franck's scores and
much more than a touch of Bach in the finale.
Vierne is a fascinating composer and I note that Arion
have two discs of his piano music in their catalogue. I plan reviewing
these at some stage alongside the Timpani CD. I last heard the symphony
when I borrowed that Erato (?) LP from Bristol's Central Library next
to the Cathedral back in 1972.