> FRANCK Organ works Lecaudey ADW7401/2 [AAS]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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The Great Organ Works (two discs)
Disc 1
Six Pieces: Fantasia in C; Grande Pièce Symphonique; Prélude, Fugue and Variation; Pastorale; Prière; Final
Disc 2
Three Pieces: Fantasia in A; Cantabile; Pièce Héroïque
Three Chorals

Jean-Pierre Lecaudey (organ)
Recorded in the Abbey of St Ouen (Rouen, France), 2-5 September 1997
PAVANE RECORDS ADW 7401/2 [79:43+70:49]


Experience Classicsonline

César Franck is one of those composers whose music you either adore or detest. One reason perhaps is that he wore his Roman Catholicism on his sleeve; at any rate, as a fellow-papist I belong firmly in the first camp. The Six Pieces (1862), Three Pieces (1878) and the Three Chorals (1890) constitute César Franck’s greatest and most abiding organ works. I have heard most of them many times (and indeed played some myself more than once), but always as isolated pieces. Of course, one has long known that Franck was the single most influential organ composer of the 19th century; but to hear these pieces played as a continuous whole has proved a revelation. It can truthfully be said that every facet of the organ music of his successors – from Widor through to Vierne, Tournemire, Dupré, Messiaen and a host of others – can trace its roots to this music.

Early on in his career Franck became acquainted with the organs which Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was building, which were to exert a profound influence on Franck’s style of composition. His designs rejected the baroque model in favour of a more expressive and ‘romantic’ instrument, of which a new, highly sensitive swell mechanism, his deployment of the voix celestes and voix humaine stops and a distinctive character he imparted to swell reeds were the most significant features. They also came much nearer to the warmth and richness of diapason tone to which English ears are accustomed. In 1858 Franck became organist at Saint-Clotilde in Paris (a post he retained until the last year of his life) and it was there that in 1859 Cavaillé-Coll installed one of his most celebrated instruments.

For this collection Jean-Pierre Lecaudey has turned to another of Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments – that in the Abbey Church of Rouen, a four-manual organ built in 1890 and apparently unaltered to this today. It is a very different instrument from those used in his other two recitals reviewed elsewhere. Once again Lecaudey shows that he is one of today’s most brilliant organists, a master of the music of many periods and possessed of a formidable technique. His programme-note also reveals the profound veneration in which he holds Franck. From the opening notes of the Fantasia in C and throughout he revels in the effects which the remarkably expressive swell-pedal permit and which are part and parcel of Franck’s organ-language.

To be honest, the Fantasia in C is a mite dull, but the Grande Pièce Symphonique most certainly isn’t – a large-scale work of symphonic proportions lasting over 25 minutes, with many dramatic eruptions alternating with reflective, even devout interludes, and featuring the composer’s favourite ‘terracing’ of sound-layers. Structurally, it also displays Franck’s ability to merge disparate thematic elements into a satisfying whole and develop a towering climax (sample 1).

The three relatively ‘lighter’ pieces which follow reveal many felicitous touches (for instance, the cool Variation [sample 2] and the crisply-articulated and judiciously-registered Quasi Allegretto of the Pastorale [track 14]). The Final is a masterpiece: it is based entirely on a seemingly-innocuous five-note phrase which is subjected to an endlessly imaginative series of mutations. Typically ferocious French reeds dominate the movement (sample 3) in which Lecaudey again deploys the swell-pedal to particularly vivid effect and in which he does full justice to its overwhelming climax.

Throughout the second disc Franck’s distinctive inspiration and Lecaudey’s faithful response are equally in evidence. If you are by now persuaded of these, then there’s no need to go into further detail: if not, it’s your loss, not mine! Suffice to say that the Three Chorals (completed in Franck’s dying months) conclude a thoroughly absorbing programme in magnificent style.

As with all his discs Lecaudey writes his own programme-notes. These are highly informative – easily defying the handicap of incompetent translations. He is again well served by his producers – the sound is spacious yet immediate, bright and natural. I cannot recommend these discs too highly.

Adrian Smith


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