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Jean LANGLAIS (1907 – 1991)
Suite Brève (1947)
Incantation pour un jour Saint (1949)
Evocation (1964)
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908 – 1992)

Offrande au Saint Sacrement (1930s)
Gaston LITAIZE (1909 – 1991)

Scherzo (1932)
Lied (1934)
Epiphanie
Guy ROPARTZ (1864 – 1955)

Prélude Funèbre (1896)
Louis VIERNE (1870 – 1937)

Trois Improvisations (1928)
Marcel DUPRE (1886 – 1971)

Evocation Op.37 (1941)
Colin Walsh at the organ of Lincoln Cathedral
Recorded: Lincoln Cathedral, September 2003
GUILD GMCD 7278 [77:22]

 

To a certain extent, Ropartz is the ‘Odd Man Out’ in this superb and generously filled selection of French organ music. Of course, he and Vierne were disciples of Franck, whereas the other composers are related to each other in one way or another. Vierne was Dupré’s mentor and Dupré was the teacher of Messiaen, Langlais and Litaize. Moreover the three younger composers were exact contemporaries and died within the space of a few months in 1991-1992.

Ropartz’s Prélude Funèbre, composed at the turn of the century, is much indebted to Franck’s chromatic writing, but is nevertheless an impressive and moving piece in its own right. Its current neglect is hard to understand.

Vierne, for all his indebtedness to tradition, was one of the first organists to commit his interpretations to disc. This happened in 1928 when he recorded some pieces by Bach as well as the Improvisations heard here and later transcribed into written notation by Duruflé. This was fortunate for these fine works would have been irretrievably lost, were if not for Duruflé’s dedicated and painstaking efforts. "Oh, well, some pompous republican marches will do!". These beautiful improvisations are actually much more than that, of course; for if the outer pieces fit that ‘cap’ (although pomposity is totally absent), the central Meditation is a real little gem.

Messiaen’s early Offrande au Saint Sacrement was found among his papers after his death. It is obviously an early work, composed in the early 1930s, at the outset of Messiaen’s career. It already sounds clearly ‘Messiaen-ish’ enough to justify its inclusion in any complete recording of his organ music (as in Olivier Latry’s recent recording).

The three pieces by Langlais are beautifully done. I enjoyed the marvellous Suite Brève, short in terms of playing time but packed with invention. His impressive Evocation, actually the fourth movement of his Hommage à Rameau of 1964 and the longest single item here, makes me eager to hear that major work complete. I do hope that Colin Walsh will consider it for an all-Langlais disc some day. This is a piece of substance, highly virtuosic and of great expressive strength as is the somewhat more straightforward Incantation pour un jour Saint.

I had never heard a note of Litaize, although I knew him quite well as a distinguished organist. Of the three short pieces heard here, I particularly enjoyed the nimble-footed Scherzo of 1932 and the appealing Lied of 1934 with its echoes of Ravel’s Mother Goose - a particularly touching piece.

Dupré is represented here by the third movement Allegro deciso from his triptych Evocation Op.37 composed in 1941 in memory of his father. This is actually the second recording of it that I have been able to review here - the other one is on Lammas LAMM 164D Sounds French. It made me really willing to hear the complete triptych which is available on Naxos 8.554211. This rousing piece, a ‘Song of Resistance’ if ever there was one, provides for an uplifting conclusion to this magnificent release superbly played by Colin Walsh on the glorious organ of Lincoln Cathedral and magnificently recorded. A most desirable disc. One of the finest organ recitals that I have heard recently.

Hubert Culot

see also review by John France and Michael Cookson



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