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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Symphonie 1 en re mineur (extraits): Prelude [7'46]; Andante [7'27]; Final [6'30]
Serge RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) transc Louis ROBILLIARD

Prelude in F sharp minor op 23 No 1 [4'32]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad Nos, ad salutarem undam' [28'16]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)

Symphonie No. 8 en si mineur op 42 (extraits): Adagio [9'27]; Final [5'35]
Louis Robilliard, organ
rec. St Sernin, Toulouse, Saint-Francois-de-Salles, Lyon, (Rachmaninov, Widor), April 2003. DDD
FESTIVO 6962.042 [69'42]

Another fabulous release from Festivo of Louis Robilliard playing two of Cavaillé-Coll's greatest late organs. This programme is built around a brisk and virtuosic reading of Liszt's huge Fantasia and Fugue on Meyerbeer's theme from 'Le Prophète'. This is a much recorded work, but Robilliard, one of the very greatest French organists of his generation, comes through the competition unscathed to present one of the very best recordings currently available. How often do you hear this piece played with such a formidable sense of unity? Interesting also that the piece survives being played on a late French Romantic organ, rather than the Ladegast organ-type for which it was conceived. Rather like Daniel Roth's recording of the Reubke Sonata in St Sulpice on Aeolus, the match is uncannily effective, despite the obvious aesthetical differences - the most obvious being the role played by the reeds in the French organs.

Another 'leap of faith' which also comes off surprisingly well, is Robilliard's own transcription of Rachmaninov's Prelude in F# minor. Transcribing very pianistic music for the organ seldom produces happy results, this is a beautiful exception. The rest of the repertoire is made up of standard Widor and Vierne excerpts; perhaps a little shame that neither symphony is presented complete. The Vierne is marvellous, with the momentum of the opening prelude and the way in which Robilliard creates a thrillingly unstoppable inevitability in the much-played Final, despite playing at a far from extreme tempo, is a real master-stroke.

The key to the genius of Robilliard is not to be found in big gestures. Mostly his tempi are at the slightly quicker end of the scale, but it is his ability to manipulate long lines, project huge structures, to create an atmosphere which draws in the listener, and to build thrilling climaxes without ever pushing the music's pulse which is so telling.

As with previous Robilliard releases on Festivo, the juxtaposition of the fiery Toulouse organ with the more serene Lyon instrument contributes much to the listening enjoyment. I find again that both organs are too closely recorded for my taste, though I understand from Festivo that microphone placement is very much at the discretion of the artist. We can assume therefore that this is what Robilliard wants us to hear.

This is unmissable stuff, buy one for yourself and several more as Christmas presents.

Chris Bragg



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