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Jean-Baptiste ROBIN (b. 1976)
Trois Elements d'un songe (2004): (Frontispice [2'35]; Souffle [2'49]; Crépusculaire [5'34])
Benoit MERNIER (b. 1964)

Cinq Inventions pour orgue: Invention I (1998) [3'18]; Invention (1999) [4'48]
Laurent CARLE (b. 1970)

Aphorismes (1999), (extracts): (Pièce III [1'34]; Pièce IV "Emince sonore" [1'55]; Pièce V [1'27])
Christophe MARCHAND (b. 1972)

Toccata et Canzone à Quatre (2004) [5'44]
Pierre FARAGO (b. 1969)

Nachtlich geschűrtz (2004) [10'37]

Eric LEBRUN (b. 1967)

XV Mystères du Rosaire: x) Eli Eli lamma sabachtani (2001) [5'54]
Valery AUBERTIN (b. 1970)

Vincent Van Gogh - Les Fresques - Lamento (1991) [7'34]
Jacques PICHARD (b. 1961)

Livre d'orgue pour le temps de la Passion (1991-1995);
La trahison de Judas [8'37]
Thierry ESCAICH (b. 1965)

Trois Esquisses (1991): (Tournoiement [2'25]; Rituel [6'08]; Variation sur un souvenir [4'27])
the composers (organ) (Toccata et Canzone a Quatre played with Pascale Rouet)
rec. organ hall, Paris Conservatoire, 27 January 2005. DDD

This new release from Hortus is actually a live recording of a concert given in January 2005 in the Paris Conservatoire as part of a conference discussing contemporary music for organ. The idea behind the concert was to present nine French-speaking organists under the age of forty in performances of their own works. The best known composer here is Thierry Escaich, perhaps the best known organist is Eric Lebrun. Considering the live nature of the event the playing is astoundingly consistent from all the performers.

For me the most attractive music is the work by the young titulaire of Poitiers Cathedral, Jean Baptiste Robin whose Naxos recording of Couperin I reviewed here last year. His evocative, dramatic and actually quite accessible music will become better known I think. The music of Thierry Escaich is already becoming a repertoire staple with certain players. I managed to hear one of his works twice last summer by visiting organists in different churches in Haarlem! Here he presents a composition written for the opening of the featured instrument, the Conservatoire's Rieger from 1991. It features the explosive energy and extreme rhythmic complexity typical to Escaich's music. Elsewhere I enjoyed the dramatic contrasts of Eric Lebrun's 'Eli Eli', the textural and registration simplicity of the miniatures of Laurent Carle and the duet by Christophe Marchand, a tribute to the stylus phantasticus as practised in Italy by figures such as Fresobaldi and Pasquini.

Indeed one of the most interesting features of the music here is the number and variety of influences. Lebrun's cycle is a tribute to Biber's Rosary Sonatas, Valery Aubertin's tough 'symphonic poem' is inspired by four paintings of Van Gogh, while Benoit Mernier's Inventions are inspired by the organs of Gottfried Silbermann.

In 1991, when the Paris Conservatoire moved to its imposing new building in the Parc de la Villette, they commissioned a large organ by Rieger for its upturned-pudding shaped organ hall - with a curiously dry acoustic. The organ was to "speak French" as Michel Bouvard suggested, but in fact it follows precisely the Rieger ideals typical in every one of their organs of the time. It was not a success, and was completely revoiced by Michel Garnier in 2002. It remains a deeply unattractive instrument with hard choruses, cold, neutral reeds and nothing else memorable.

Recording this concert was a good idea, and this organ type does play contemporary music better than anything else of course, but I long to hear some of these works on a better instrument in a better acoustical environment.

Hortus show yet again why they are the leading label in the field of documenting French organ culture with an imaginative and beautifully presented release. All works feature extensive programme notes from the composers. Highly recommended.

Chris Bragg



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