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Sounds French
Pierre COCHEREAU (1924 – 1984)
Entrée Grand Orgue (1974)
Scherzo Symphonique (1968)
César FRANCK (1822 – 1891)
Choral No.1 (1890)
David BRIGGS (b. 1962)
Symphonie en Improvisation (2003)
Jean LANGLAIS (1907 – 1991)
Messe Alme Pater (1985)
Incantation pour un jour Saint (1949)
Jeanne DEMESSIEUX (1921 – 1968)
Attende Domine (published 1950)
Marcel DUPRE (1886 – 1971)
Allegro Deciso (1941)
David Briggs at the organ of Blackburn Cathedral Recorded: Blackburn Cathedral, June 2003
LAMMAS LAMM 164 D [67:47]

Sounds French. Well, yes, up to a certain point for this release of French organ music also includes a piece by César Franck who was born in Liège (though he spent most of his composing life in Paris) and another one by David Briggs.

Pierre Cochereau was a highly respected musician and was well known as a supreme organist, mainly at Notre Dame in Paris. He was also (as are most organists) a master improviser whose improvisations in Notre Dame were – luckily enough – recorded and issued on LPs and later on CDs. The two pieces here are heard in David Briggs’ excellent transcriptions from these recordings. Entrée Grand Orgue is a typical prelude to a high mass and is cast as a powerful crescendo-diminuendo based on the plainsong Kyrie Orbis Factor, whereas Scherzo Symphonique is a brilliant virtuoso improvisation on two contrasting themes. Briggs’ transcriptions will hopefully be available in print, for these pieces should feature more often in organists’ recitals.

Jean Langlais’s achievement as organist and as composer is deservedly held in high esteem, although he may not have been given his due yet, i.e. as far as commercial recordings of his music are concerned. Incantation pour un jour Saint is a short, but highly effective and brilliant piece composed in 1949 whereas his Messe Alme Pater is a much later work completed in 1985. Both display Langlais’s resourceful handling of Gregorian chant which he wraps in his personal harmonic and rhythmic manner. The organ mass is a major work in spite of its concision.

Jeanne Demessieux, too, was a remarkable organist whose untimely death at the age of 47 was a tragic loss. Attende Domine heard here is one of her twelve Chorals-Preludes published in 1950. It is as beautifully written as anything else in this selection, although the music is, on the whole, slightly more traditional and nearer to Franck than Langlais or Dupré. The latter is represented by the Allegro Deciso, in fact the third movement from Evocations Op.37, a triptych dedicated to the memory of his father. I wish that Briggs had recorded Evocations complete; but this magnificent piece brilliantly closes this most welcome selection.

The major work here is Briggs’ own Symphonie en Improvisation, a substantial piece in four movements playing for some 25 minutes, and – believe it or not – improvised at about 11.20pm, at the end of the recording session! The whole piece is a full-fledged symphony: a Moderato first movement followed by a lively Scherzo, in turn followed by a slow movement of great expressive strength and rounded-off by an energetic Finale. This marvellous piece of music deserves to be heard. I hope that David Briggs will commit it to paper. It would be a great loss indeed if it was not available in print for other organists’ profit.

César Franck’s Three Chorals of 1890 are his last major works. The Choral No.1 displays all the hallmarks of Franck’s mature music, and is roughly conceived as a tone poem, rather than as the diminutive meditation that might have been suggested by the title. It is interesting to compare Briggs’ reading with that by Jamie Hitel (recently released on Lammas LAMM 145 D, reviewed here some time ago). Briggs takes a more expansive approach, and plays for two extra minutes. Moreover, there are some curious, intriguing sounds heard first at about 2’35” [track 3] and again at about 5’. Have these sounds anything to do with Briggs’ comments that “[we] decided specifically not to have the organ tuned before this recording in order to give an even more authentically French sound (sic)”? Curious indeed, for I did not notice any particular distortion in the other pieces.

In short, a most welcome release, magnificently played and well recorded, well worth having, were it only for Briggs’ Symphonie, although I could have done without the Franck and instead had some more of Cochereau’s improvisations and a complete recording of Dupré’s Evocations.

Hubert Culot

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