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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in G minor for organ, string orchestra and timpani [20:25]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)

Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain, op.7 [12:10]
Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940)

Sarabande for organ, string quintet and timpani [11:42]

Three Dances for Orchestra, op.6 (1938) [20:42]
Marie-Claire Alain (organ)
Bamberger Symphoniker/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
Recorded in the Sinfonie an den Regnitz, Bamberg, 10th-12th November 1997
WARNER APEX 2564 61912-2 [65:44]


Though the Poulenc Organ Concerto has long been a personal favourite, the real find on this disc for me was the concluding item, Maurice Duruflé’s Three Dances for Orchestra, op.6, composed in 1938. I knew this composer previously only for his sacred music (principally the fine Requiem), and these colourful, melodious pieces were quite a revelation. The brilliant orchestration brings Respighi to mind, while the influence of Ravel and Debussy is strong too (though, interestingly, not that of Les Six). The first dance has an exquisite opening, with Daphnis-like gurgles in clarinet, which then gives way to a brilliant scherzo. A stately slow dance follows, and finally a lively and slightly wild Tambourin, with a wonderfully furtive ending in the bassoon. The subtle writing for percussion and the doleful alto saxophone solo in the central section give this movement a memorable colour.

Before that, we have a fine and authoritative performance of the Poulenc Organ Concerto by Marie-Claire Alain, with sensitive contributions from the strings and timpani of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. This may not have quite the flamboyance of the recently re-issued EMI version, with Maurice Duruflé as soloist (EMI 7243 5 62647 2 4 Review), but at this bargain price, it is more than respectable, and some listeners may find its comparative restraint a positive virtue. The recorded balance, always difficult in this piece, is really very good.

The programming of the music on this CD is fascinating; the Poulenc is followed by the organ Prélude and Fugue by Duruflé, using the name of his close friend, Jehan (pronounced the same as ‘Jean’) Alain, a brilliantly gifted young composer who died heroically during the World War 2 battle in defence of Saumur. Both composers were pupils of Paul Dukas (of Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame) and Duruflé makes use of his friend’s surname turned into a sort of musical ‘code’, and creates a very fine piece of music. The prelude is a fully developed movement, starting with mysterious rustlings, and introducing a splendid plainsong-like melody based on ‘Alain’. The fugue that follows is far from ‘academic’ and is built on a long, smooth sentence of melody heard at the outset. It grows calmly to a powerfully exultant conclusion; this is a celebration of Alain’s gifts, not a dirge or lament.

The organist is again, of course, Jehan Alain’s sister Marie-Claire, and the next track finds her as the soloist in one of her brother’s works, a brooding Sarabande for organ, string quintet and timpani. Impressive music, which brought to my mind the sound-world and atmosphere of Martinů’s Double Concerto – the tension of the late 1930s, and the sinister combination of timpani and strings are no doubt responsible for that (and form another link with the Poulenc Concerto).

Quite a CD this, and an absolute must for lovers of the great world of French organ music. An imaginatively planned programme, performed with dedication and total accomplishment.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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