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Jean LANGLAIS (1907 – 1991)

"Réaction" – Organ Concerto No.3 (1970/1)
Robert Maximilian HELMSCHROTT (born 1938)

"Lamento" – Organ Concerto (1993)
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)

Organ Concerto in G minor (1938)
Franz Hauk (organ); The Georgian Chamber Orchestra, Ingolstadt; Markus Poschner
Recorded: Liebfrauenmünster, Ingolstadt, October 2001
GUILD GMCD 7240 [69:26]



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Besides a considerable amount of organ and choral music, Langlais composed three organ concertos (1949, 1961 and 1970/1 respectively) which have never been recorded so far. His Réaction – Organ Concerto No.3 was completed in 1971 and first performed in 1976 in Pittsburgh. The subtitle is rather puzzling or misleading, for there is nothing reactionary in this substantial work cast in a clear 20th Century idiom, even though Langlais’s organ writing may be somewhat less adventurous than Messiaen’s. The opening drum-roll followed by a nervous gesture in the strings sets the scene: this will be a serious often dark-hued, intense piece of music with very little relief, if indeed any at all. The structure, in five interlinked sections, is unusual: a long weighty introduction stating the concerto’s basic thematic material leads into a short, nervous Scherzo fading into the real core of the entire work: a powerful fugue sometimes recalling Honegger’s muscular and virile writing. This is followed by a cadenza leading into the final short coda. Neither reactionary nor revolutionary, Langlais’s Third Organ Concerto is an intensely serious and powerful work of substance.

Helmschrott too has composed (and, presumably, still does so) a huge amount of organ music, in which his large-scale cycle of twelve Church Sonatas (the First Sonata for trombone and organ was written in 1984 as a commission by the Department of Culture of Ingolstadt) has the lion’s share. Some of his orchestral and vocal music is also available on Vienna Modern Masters (Entelechiae for soprano and orchestra of 1977 on VMM 3035 and his oratorio Kreuz und Freiheit on VMM 3027). His Lamento – Concerto for Organ, Strings and Percussion, another Ingolstadt commission, was completed in 1993 when the composer was artist-in-residence at the McDowell Colony. It is laid-out in two weighty movements of broadly equal length framing a short Interludium. All the main material is based on an eight-tone row stated at the outset of the work. The first movement is mostly dramatic and declamatory in mood. It generates considerable tension, briefly dispelled in the peacefully musing Interludium. The second movement displays some forceful energetic writing. A slower middle section eases the nervous tension before the powerful reprise rushing the concerto to its emphatic conclusion. A substantial work and a most welcome novelty whose deeply felt and intense earnestness of purpose sometimes recalls Frank Martin in its freely atonal but highly communicative idiom.

By comparison, Poulenc’s better-known Organ Concerto in G minor (one of his supreme and most perfect masterpieces, by the way) might seem lightweight, which it is not. Quite the contrary; it is one of his most serious and most personal statements. It is miles away from his customary, easy-going and light-hearted playfulness, that nevertheless often conceals some deeply rooted sadness. However l’ironie est la politesse du désespoir, a saying that often applies to Poulenc’s bitter-sweet music. Poulenc, however, was also a deeply religious man who expressed his faith in short choral works as well as in his large-scale trilogy of choral-orchestral works culminating in his last masterpiece Sept Répons des Ténèbres. Though not overtly religious, the Organ Concerto belongs to his most personal music making, even if it has that playful sixth section inspired by the sight of serious monks playing football! Poulenc, who was not trained as an organist, admitted that his model was Buxtehude, though the final product is pure Poulenc. Maurice Duruflé, who gave the first performances of the Organ Concerto, also acted as technical adviser during the composition of the piece.

Guild’s hopefully ongoing series is going from strength to strength, thanks to Franz Hauk’s dedicated advocacy and persuasion. Of Guild’s enthusiastic support. I now hope that forthcoming releases in this series will include any (or all!) of the following: Rainer Kunad’s Organ Concerto (with double string orchestra and timpani) as well as those of Hamilton, Hoddinott and Mathias, and – why not? – Langlais’s First and Second Organ Concertos.

Production is excellent and up to Guild’s best standards. The recording team again cope quite successfully with Ingolstadt Liebfrauenmünster’s reverberant acoustics. Another warm recommendation.

Hubert Culot


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