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FÊTE - French organ music from the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Joseph BONNET (1884-1944)

Variations de Concert, op1 [8'49]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)

Two pieces from Pieces de Fantaisie op30: Scherzetto [3'17]; Pastorale [4'33]; Carillon de Westminster [6'22]
Louis James Alfred LEFEBURE-WELY (1817-1869)

Sortie in E-flat [4'12]; Andante in F [3'48]
Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1992)

Fete [5'04]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Choral No 1 in E [17'32]
Marcel DUPRE (1886-1971)

Magnificat V from Vespres du Commun de la Sainte Vierge [3'27]
Pierre COGEN

Offrande [2'57]
Andrew Cantrill, organ
Rec. Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, New Zealand, 12, 13, 15 May 2002 DDD

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It is always curious to hear organs which are so far away from one's own country that one is never likely to hear them in the flesh. That was certainly the case when I received this CD of 19th and 20th century French music played on the organ of Wellington Cathedral in New Zealand, by the Cathedral's English-born and -educated organist, Andrew Cantrill.

Unfortunately this release is a disappointment on almost all counts. For a start, the instrument is not at all up to the task. Originally built by T.C. Lewis in 1877, it has been expanded, moved, neo-baroque-ified, and not at all improved by a succession of local builders who should have left well alone. The result is an instrument of around 60 stops, on 4 manuals, only 2 of which have any real foundations, while the organ as a whole contains two 1' stops and no fewer than three 1, 1/3 stops, not to mention various other mutations and the Positive Cimbel. Occasionally one gets a whiff of some real quality, the Swell strings and Hautboy, (probably original) are beautiful, for the rest it is an un-lovely and unremarkable sound, characterised by lack of foundation, poor reeds and high mixtures. In any case, it is certainly not the organ for the majority of the programme.

Unfortunately Cantrill's playing, while quite virtuosic, is rather superficial. Langlais' Fete, and the little Offrande by Pierre Cogen come off best despite use of the hideous Cromorne in the latter. For the rest, the playing lacks space, insight and a feeling for harmonic tension. Franck's Premier Choral is given a strangely disjointed reading, the required Vox Humana missing for the Choral theme, and at 17 and a half minutes one of the longest performances on record. Elsewhere his use of the organ is unintelligent; the grotesque horizontal trumpet is coupled to the tutti no fewer than four times, even the last line of the Franck isn't spared. This is the playing of someone who has spent much time learning virtuosic show-pieces at electric-action organs, and precious little time playing the organs which gave birth to the music; the masterpieces of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

Despite the substantial programme-note, the booklet is mostly concerned with some local art-work, the relevance of which escapes me. There is no photo of the instrument, but having done a little research I can reveal why. It looks as unappealing as it sounds ...

Chris Bragg

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