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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Carillon de Westminster, from Pièces de Fantasie, Op. 54 [6:16]§
Andantino from Pièces de Fantasie, Op. 51 [3:40] §
Impromptu from Pièces de Fantasie, Op. 54 [2:56]
Final de la Symphonie No. 3, Op. 28 [6:00]
Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)

Choral-Improvisation sur le "Victimae paschali laudes" [9:29]
Fantasie-Improvisation sur l’Ave Maris Stella [10:05]
Cantilène [4:12] §
Petite Rhapsodie [4:43] §
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1802-1986)

Prelude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le "Veni Creator" [21:21] §
Maurice Duruflé (§) and Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier, organ
Rec. Grand Organs of: Cathédral de Soissons; St. Etienne-du-Mont, France, 1963 ADD
ERATO 256460593-2 [67:46]

 

Maurice Duruflé was a student of both Vierne and Tournemire, and was hailed in his lifetime as not only one of the greatest of French organists, but for his gifts as a composer. Meticulous and highly self-critical, he left behind only a small parcel of completed works. He is perhaps best known for his Requiem mass, which although modeled after the equally famous Requiem by his older countryman Gabriel Fauré, is a strikingly original and magnificent work in its own right. Although she had no real reputation as a composer, Duruflé’s wife, Marie-Madeleine shared her husband’s fame as an organ virtuoso, and to these ears, was the more fiery and adventuresome player of the two. Lovers of organ music are fortunate then, to have these recordings, perhaps some of the most authoritative available of this repertoire, restored to the catalogue.

The two instruments heard here, both by the renowned Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, are used to their fullest splendor by these two masters of the instrument. I was particularly taken by the striking colors of the celeste and reed stops, especially when used with tremulant and played in chorus. The sound literally jumps from the speakers and is a sheer delight to the ears.

There is nothing to criticize in the playing by these two, and indeed it would be a bit pretentious on my part to quibble at all with the execution of these works, known to the artists most likely since their creation. The playing is flawless. There are some real standouts, however, and they belong to Madame Duruflé, and not to her more famous husband. Specifically, I speak of the stunning renditions of Tournemire’s two improvisatory works on chant themes. (Victimae paschali and Ave Maris Stella.) Were it not for the phenomenal ears of Maurice, these works would not have even come down to us. Tournemire never wrote them down. But to our eternal benefit, they were recorded in performance, and Mme Duruflé transcribed them via dictation from the recordings. The performances of these works are nothing short of astounding. Played with supreme authority and command, they are overwhelming to listen to, nothing short of one thrill per measure of music.

While Maurice was certainly one of the great organists of his generation, he comes across in these recordings as a good deal more conservative, both in his choice of registrations and in the sheer force with which he plays than does his more adventuresome spouse. I do not think this a criticism, rather a very interesting contrast between the two organists, which reflects their reportedly very different personalities.

Grateful as we must be for this reissue, there is a great deal to criticize about Erato’s utterly sloppy packaging. The program notes are so disjunctive and convoluted as to be nearly worthless. There is no real commentary about the works themselves, and all we really do get is a very confusing essay about the organists and their relationships to the composer and to each other. There is precious little information about either of these spectacular instruments either. The lack of a stop list, and a more erudite set of notes is inexcusable both for a company of Erato’s standing and for a recording of this much historical significance.

Sound quality, although a little rife with background hiss and noise from the organ blower at times, is fairly good for a recording that is now forty years old. Despite the rather poor production values, this is an essential for lovers of organ music, but for the quality of the performances and for the sake of historical documentation of two great artists. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton

 

 



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