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Fantaisie Triomphale
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Allegro [4:04]
Méditation sur le Stabat mater [7:55]
Final alla Schumann sur un noel languedocien [3:52]
March-fantaisie sur deux chants d’église [8:53]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cyprès et lauriers (1919) [16:10]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Fantaisie sur l’hymne national russe [9:10]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Grand choeur dialogue [5:09]
(transcribed for organ and Orchestra by Ropartz)
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Cortège et Litanie (1921) [5:22]
Theodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
Fantaisie triomphale  (1899) [10:22]
Ian Tracey (organ)
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. Liverpool Cathedral, 28-29 June 2006
CHANDOS CHSA5048 [72:02] 

“ The spine-tingling aural sensation of French ‘full organ’ is akin to an ammunition dump going up”, so comments Joe Riley, Arts Editor, Liverpool Echo in his notes to this compilation. He goes on to comment: “Through the 19th century, the organ, supplemented by ever increasing ranks of pipes and reeds and higher and higher wind pressures, became the single most mighty voice on earth … and it wasn’t long before composers were attracted to the idea of combining organ and orchestra in a new and glorious panoply of sound.”
French composers recognised the opportunities for creating sonic-splendour using the full capabilities of these ‘magnificent beasts’ in such imposing surroundings as the Madeleine in Paris where Saint-Saëns was organist from 1858 to 1877. Ian Tracey, on this new Chandos release, performing on the great Henry Willis III organ, with its five manual divisions, 146 speaking stops (35 of them on the pedal organ alone), in the resplendent ambience Liverpool Cathedral, replicates this authentic French experience.
The highlight of this new release is a set of four shorter works for organ and orchestra by Alexandre Guilmant. The ‘Allegro’ is a joyful piece, rather Baroque in style, and one of the most tuneful of the original works on this album. Guilmant’s Méditation is an austerely beautiful, consolatory work depicting Mary, mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross. The little three-minute tribute to Schumann is a clever pastiche, the usual Schumann mannerisms are clearly recognisable; its Christmas tune declaimed grandly and cheerily. The concluding Marche-fantaisie employs two harps, their voices interweaving with two chorale-like themes leading into an imposing fugato and developing up to a commanding climax.  
[Ian Tracey had already recorded, for Chandos, in 1993, Guilmant’s exciting Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra (together with the Widor Symphony No. 5 for organ and the Poulenc Organ Concerto (Chandos CHAN 9721). Chandos later  recorded Tracey performing Guilmant’s Symphony No. 2 for Organ and Orchestra with Widor’s Symphony No.3 for organ and Franck’s Organ Chorale No. 2 on Chandos 9785.]
The most substantial work in the programme is Saint-Saëns’ Cyprès et lauriers.  The booklet information is slim, you have to turn for more to the booklet of a rival 1997 recording – Michel Plasson conducting the Orchestre du Capitole Toulouse with Matthias Eisenberg as the organist in this work and probably the most famous piece of this period for organ and orchestra Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony No. 3 (1887) on EMI 7243 56362 2 5.  Written in 1919, and dedicated to the president of the Republic, Raymond Poincaré, Cyprès et lauriers (‘Cypresses and Laurels’) was given its first performance at the Casino in Ostend in that year and first heard in Paris on the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Trocadéro in celebration of the end of the 1914-18 war and the liberation of France.  Its extravagant scoring includes multiple brass and two harps.  Cyprès, for solo organ, opens with imposing swells before the music alternates between quiet reflection, honouring the fallen as symbolised by ‘sad cypresses’, and ominous, protesting pedals and agitated treble chords reminding, perhaps, of heavy guns and the horrors of trench warfare.   The orchestra joins in for the grandiose celebratory ‘Lauriers’, which is reminiscent of the splendour of Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony but, in spite of its spectacular brass fanfares seemingly calling out from all four corners of the Cathedral, it is, alas, not nearly as memorable as the Organ Symphony.
The Gounod piece impresses as a sweet and imperative take on the Russian hymn made famous by Tchaikovsky in his 1812 Overture.
The remainder of the programme is devoted to works by lesser known French composers whose output and personal details are difficult to track down in standard reference works. Eugene Gigout’s Grand choeur dialogue makes a grand concert opening, and it is among the most popular of his 400 or solo organ works. It was transcribed for organ and orchestra by Joseph Guy Ropartz making it sound quite spectacular, full of patriotic fervour. Marcel Dupré’s Cortège et Litanie offers, in its opening pages, some relief, in Gallic wistfulness and quiet introspection, from the general bombast before the pace quickens and the organ leads a loud, proud yet rather empty declamation. Theodore Dubois’s Fantaisie triophale really lives up to its name, bringing the concert to a spectacular spine-tingling conclusion with huge organ swells, proud brass fanfares and celebratory bells after, it has to be said some rather tedious central musings.
Much bombast, less substance and with no one stand-out theme to linger in the memory. But hi-fi buffs will be enthralled; this is floor-board trembling stuff. Just make sure the neighbours, and their neighbours are out first.
Ian Lace


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