There are two things
to say straightaway about this recording. Firstly it has a fantastic
sound with some really neat playing on a fine organ. But secondly
it is sad that Naxos does not see this as an opportunity for
doing a Guilmant ‘series’ as they did for Marcel Dupré and appear
to be doing for Reger and Rheinberger. I can only presume this
to be the case as they have not chosen to call the release ‘Volume
1’and they have included two movements drawn from the composer’s
eight organ sonatas – which may imply that they do not intend
to issue them in their entirety.
A brief look at
the excellent Guilmant Web Page
reveals a considerable number of recordings of this composer’s
works, including two that appear to be ‘complete’ editions.
I have long enjoyed the Sonatas played by Ben van Oosten on
the Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Église Abbatiale de Saint-Ouen,
Rouen. And of course there is the 9 CD Motette series which
I have not yet heard. This particular version appears to cover
all or most of Guilmant's published works for the organ.
I suppose that when
I heard the rumour of a Guilmant CD from Naxos I imagined a
new edition of this great cycle of organ music, especially the
Sonatas – and played on a large Canadian organ too! But who
knows what the future holds?
The Grand Chorus
in G minor, Op. 84 is a good going piece and a worthy opening
number to this recital. It is one of a number of such works
that Guilmant wrote for ‘big’ occasions – both liturgical and
state. There is a great ‘heavy reed’ solo in the closing bars
of this impressive work.
The Caprice in
B flat major, Op. 20, No. 3 is one of many salon style pieces
in the composer’s oeuvre. In some ways it has a ‘theatre organ’
sound – but whether this is the piece’s style or the organist’s
registration it is hard to tell. The work has some interesting
and quite intricate fingerwork and exploits dexterous changes
between manuals. The easy-going feel belies its technical complexity.
in B minor, Op. 19, No. 1 is a wistful little piece. Formally
it is really a duet between the ‘oboe’ and the ‘clarinet.’ It
is an attractive work, but maybe lacking in distinction.
Perhaps the most
important work on this CD is the Lamentation in D minor Op.
45 No.1. This is certainly the longest work here and by far
the most profound. It is dedicated to the composer’s great friend
Abbé Henri Gros who was killed in the bombardment of Paris in
1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. This is a deeply moving
work and in its own way quite stunning.
The long slow introduction
builds up into a huge climax before subsiding into a peaceful
and satisfying close. Guilmant makes use of Gregorian chant
in this work to derive his theme – presumably in honour of his
friend the Abbé. It is perhaps the finest and most impressive
work on this CD.
sur O filii pour la fête de Pâques, Op. 49, No. 2 is an
attractive set of variations – with a twist. The work opens
and closes with toccata-like figurations but the variations
proper are contrived as the ‘middle section’. This is a fine
recital piece – and perhaps an excellent encore.
The most forward-looking
piece on this CD is the Lento Assai (Rêve) from the late
Seventh Organ Sonata Op.89. Here Guilmant, perhaps
uncharacteristically, uses ‘whole tone’ harmonies to create
this ‘dreamlike’ music. This may well have been in honour of
Debussy – a composer who Guilmant much admired. The work is
literally ‘dreamy’ with lovely use of the ‘string’ stops to
give the atmospherics. This is ‘romantic’ organ music at its
For the next number,
March on a Theme by Handel, Op. 15, No. 2, the composer
turned to the pages of the Messiah to extract the tune
‘Lift Up Your Heads’ . It is a well wrought ‘march’ which
includes a fugue and is completed with a huge presentation of
the Handelian theme. A real show-stopper – ideal for the ‘Monday
The Scherzo Symphonique
in C major Op.55 is a work of epic proportions. It is not
a classical scherzo as such but actually a rondo. From the very
first note to the last there is a huge amount of energy in this
work. It is one of the greatest and most accomplished pieces
on this CD.
The Noël languedocien,
Communion No. 2 in F minor, Op. 60 is one of a number of
Christmas Carol arrangements that Guilmant wrote in the 1880s.
In itself it is perhaps an unexceptional work – but on second
hearing I concluded that it is the ideal piece to hear whilst
sitting waiting for the Midnight Mass to commence. This is expressive
music calculated to warm the heart and suffuse the soul with
Of course the recital
has to end with a barnstormer – and the Finale of the
well known and well loved Sonata No.1 in D minor Op.
42 fits the bill: it is a regular war-horse. Luckily listeners
have the privilege of knowing this piece in both the solo and
the concerted versions. But here, in its original incarnation
it is well played and enthusiastically closes this interesting
and varied programme. Look out for the ‘heavy reed’ stops at
the very close.
One little detail
that did disappoint me was the works’ dates. A friend of mine
has often complained that her eyesight condition prevents her
from reading some of the close written text that Naxos use for
their usually excellent programme notes. In this CD most – but
not all - of the dates of the works are hidden away in the small
text. It took me, with reasonable eyesight, some time to extract
the information for this review. What my friend would like,
and I agree with her, is to always ensure that the dates (where
known) are put on the track-listing in readable text!
That being said
the sleeve-notes are excellent and a ‘part’ specification of
the organ is given. This information is so important for the
organ enthusiast – in fact I know an organ ‘buff’ who will not
listen to a CD if he does not have the ‘spec’ in front of him.
For the record this present organ is a reasonably large four
manual instrument with a separate ‘nave organ’. The pedal department
is extensive and includes three 32ft stops – however the ‘Contra
Trombone’ is a digital stop - presumably saving a lot of money
and space! It is a pity that Naxos could not have given details
of couplers, pistons and action as this is incredibly important
to many potential listeners!
makes a fine introduction to the world of Alexandre Guilmant.
Yet I do wonder who it is aimed at? Most organ music enthusiasts
will have some, if not all of this music on other recordings
– perhaps played on Cavaillé-Coll instruments. It is unlikely
that someone will just pick up this CD on a whim – Classic FM
are not noted for introducing the ‘classical’ public to this
kind of music. So I imagine it will be the ‘completist’ who
needs to have all recordings of everything that Guilmant wrote,
or perhaps those people who admire the Canadian organ builder
over and above other manufacturers. Yet these individuals must
be few and far between ...
Robert Delcamp is
Professor of Music and University Organist at the University
of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. This is Professor Delcamp's
fifth CD for the Naxos label which includes works by Saint-Saëns
and Marcel Dupré. He is well able to capture the essence of
the ‘French’ style on this North American organ and one looks
forward to more releases both on this instrument and by this
This is a great
addition to the ever increasing library of organ music available
at reasonable price and excellent quality on Naxos. For that
reason alone I imagine many people could be tempted to add it