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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Fantaisie in C major op. 16 [13'47]
Grand Piece Symphonique op. 17 [26'30]
Prelude, Fugue et Variation op. 18 [10'14]
Priere [12'45]
Fantaisie in A major [14'07]
Pastorale op. 19 [9'10]
Final op. 21 [11'05]
Cantabile [6'35]
Piece Heroique [8'37]
Choral No. 1 in E major [14'46]
Choral No. 2 in B minor [14'12]
Choral No. 3 in A minor [13'42]
Marie-Claire Alain, organ
Rec: St Francois-de-Sales, Lyon, May 1976. ADD
WARNER APEX 2564 61428-2 [77'23 + 78'07]

The record buyer wishing to purchase a budget-price set of Franck's complete major organ works is well served at the moment. Together with this re-issued and re-mastered Erato recording of Marie-Claire Alain from 1976, there is Naxos's recording of Eric Lebrun on the unaltered Cavaillé-Coll of St Antoine des Quinze-Vingts in Paris; a stylish, supple, personal and all-round excellent recording. There is also Brilliant Classics' re-issue of Jean Guillou's gruesome recording for Dorian, recorded in St Eustache, now available for pennies from a certain well-known Dutch chemist chain, but this is easily dismissible.

Marie-Claire Alain's performances are still as well worth owning today as when they were originally released. These are committed, insightful readings of a very high quality. Sometimes her tempi, seen from the post-Joel-Marie Facquet world of 2004 seem a bit sluggish. However she never exaggerates at the slow end of the tempo-spectrum in a mis-guided attempt to conjure the mythical world of the 'père angélique', something so many organists are guilty of, especially for example at the beginning of the Grand Pièce Symphonique or in the Prière. In addition, I find her readings sometimes a little too calculated, but this is very much a matter of taste.

Alain chose as her instrument one of the mildest and most beautiful larger Cavaillé-Colls, a relatively late (1879) instrument in St François-de-Sales in Lyon, (3/45). It is, it goes without saying, perfectly suited to Franck's music. Unfortunately no specification is included. This is not acceptable. Lucid and interesting programme notes from Alain are however included and although my recommendation would still be for Lebrun (just), these ensure that Apex's release is well worth having.

Chris Bragg

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