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Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Esquisses Romanes et Gothiques for two organs
Trois Esquisses Gothiques (1975) [18:29] (Maestoso [5:36]; Virgo dei genitrix [3:37]; Séquence pour la fête de la dédicace [9:15])
Canzona (from Folkloric Suite) [3:34]
Pasticcio (from Organ Book) [2:34]
Prélude (from Suite Médiévale) [2:37]
Tiento (from Suite Médiévale) [3:36]
Dialogue sur les mixtures (from Suite Brève) [3:33]
Plainte (from Suite Brève) [5:11]
Incantation pour un Jour Saint (from Pâques) [4:52]
Trois Esquisses Romanes [26:53] (Moderato [8:11]; Allegro vivo [10:57]; Allegro [7:43])
Jacques Kauffmann (grand orgue; petit orgue (Esquisses))
Frédéric Ledroit (grand orgue (Esquisses))
rec. 13, 15 April 2004, Catédrale Angoulême. DDD
Notes and organ specifications included
SKARBO DSK4053 [71:21]

The practice of writing four-hand organ music or music for two keyboards goes back centuries. It was inevitable that the composer of voluminous organ music Jean Langlais would come to this area of composition, although it was not until fairly late in his career that he did so.  He started in the late sixties and eventually produced the six Esquisses (sketches) here recorded as well as several fantasies for two organs and a number of other works, including music for organ and piano duo. The six sketches are more substantial than the title would imply and demonstrate aspects of the composer’s style not seen in some of his single-keyboard works.
The Esquisses Romanes were written in 1975 for the Année Romane and premiered by Langlais and Paul Brunet. In spite of the architectural inspiration the musical foundation is naturally Gregorian. All the sketches feature alternation between the two organs and in this first sketch the petit orgue is the star, with beautiful registration by Kauffmann. The grande is the more prominent in the second sketch (on Virgo dei genitrix), yet much of the time one might almost mistake it for the petit as it plays so softly. Thematic development is key in this sketch. The highlight is the Séquence pour la fête de la dédicace. It comprises a set of variations in alternation between the two organs. It contains what I may say is some of the composer’s best use of variation form. The juggling of primacy between the two instruments through the course of the variations is also fascinating. Throughout the composer demonstrates a freer approach to form and metre than is usually found in his single keyboard works. His harmonies are also fuller in many ways.
The second set of sketches was composed only a year later, but this time for Washington, D.C. Overall they are more troubled than those in the first set, with the larger instrument seeming to try to console the smaller. The second set opens with what seems like a reminiscence of Franck’s Third Chorale, but quickly changes to abrupt thematic contrasts between the two instruments. The playing here by Ledroit is at its most impressive as he goes through a range of styles before the piece ends as it began. The last sketch continues the meditative mood of its predecessor, but here Kauffmann gets to shine as he wrings some amazing sounds from the petit orgue. Again this set is freer in harmony and form than the “average” Langlais organ work, although his characteristic harsh sound is always present.
The other works on this disc have been better represented on disc, some by Langlais himself and need less comment. They are played on the grande orgue of Angoulême by Jacques Kauffman, who played the petit orgue on the above-discussed works. The Fête pour un jour sainte is beautifully phrased, but drags a little. Kauffmann does better with the “antique” works like the Canzona and Pasticcio. He is best in the Dialogue sur les Mixtures.
The sound quality is generally good in the two-organ works, especially with the larger instrument. There are moments of noise when the petit orgue is playing in the second and third sketch (second set) that are quite distracting. The engineers are very good at making allowances for the different reverberation times of the two instruments.
Overall, worth investigating for fans of Langlais and of lesser-known parts of the repertoire.
William Kreindler


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