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Loic MALLIE (b. 1947)
Retour de Bayreuth - Improvisations on Themes of Wagner:
Andante [5'57]; Scherzando con fuoco [2'24]; Mysterioso [6'11]; Molto vivo, Tutti [9'13]; Caccia [1'56]; Prelude de choral  [4'50]; Fugato [4'18]; Marche Funèbre [8'52]; Humoresque [1'46]; "Tristan..."  [6'06]; Final [12'14]
Loic Mallie, organ
Rec: 7-8 November 1998, La Madeleine, Paris DDD



I have been a great fan of this recording for a while, so I'm delighted to have the opportunity to review it now. This, quite simply, is the best new organ recording I have heard in the last couple of years. Loic Mallie is professor of theory and improvisation at CNSM in Lyon and titulaire of the new Kern organ in the church of St Pothin in the same city. Here he fuses the Leitmotivs and harmonic language of Wagner with his own improvisatory language to create a synthesis of extraordinary beauty. The resultant music treads the line between 19th century Germany and 20th century France, and also on occasion the line between impressionism and expressionism and is unstintingly compelling.

Its difficult to pinpoint the most admirable aspect here. I think possibly it lies in the novelty of hearing a French organist who is not afraid to have such an underwhelmingly introspective, though always intense and focused improvisatory style, dominate the more common combination of extrovert organ, sometimes cliché-ridden (in the best possible sense for the most part!) fireworks most commonly heard in Paris on Sunday morning, or in the UK when the Parisian titulaires play concerts there. While the latter seldom fails to excite, Mallie engages, draws you into his world, giving a genial contemporary French organist's vision of Wagner. Like Wagner's music, Mallie's is sometimes extremely static, occasionally frantic, very occasionally demonic, the harmonic landscape constantly changing, searching for an elusive eventual peace. The scale of the improvisations is without exception perfectly judged, despite their ranging in length from less than 2, to more than 12 minutes.  This is so much more than a game of 'spot the leitmotiv'; it is the musical equivalent of the darkest box of chocolates you could ever imagine...

The Parisian church of La Madeleine, Napoleon's Greco-Roman temple to victory, finally consecrated in 1845, contains an relatively early Cavaillé-Coll. To my mind it rather carries the scars of an ill-advised rebuild by Gonzales in the 1970s who electrified the, until-then unaltered, action. The church has no windows which gives it the curious quality that, no matter where one sits, the organ sounds very direct. In the wrong hands it can very easily become unpleasantly overbearing. Mallie seems to understand this instinctively, a dynamic of mezzo forte or above occurs only twice, in the fourth piece and briefly at the climax of the finale; the motif of the Walkyries in the major for the first time. For the rest he uses the organ as a Wagnerian orchestra, using the beautiful flutes, solo reeds, strings and fonds with unending imagination.

Unfortunately Hortus had not yet begun to translate their CD booklets when this was released, so the notes are for French speakers only. In addition there is no specification or photograph of the organ, a complaint, sadly I will return to with several further Hortus CDs.

It is a privilege to spend an hour in the company of such music-making. If this has not yet found its way to your CD shelves, buy it without hesitation. 

Chris Bragg

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