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Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
Symphony for Organ No. 7 in A-minor Op. 42 No. 3 (1887) [36:43]
Symphony for Organ No. 9 in C-minor Op. 70 “Gothique” (1895) [28:49]
Frédéric Ledroit (organ)
rec. Church of the Madeleine, Paris, 4-6 March 2007. DDD
Text and organ specifications provided
SKARBO DSK1076 [65:34]
Experience Classicsonline

The concept of the organ symphony was invented by Widor. However, in his ten symphonies the concept can mean different things. Sometimes it means a four-movement work in more or less classical symphonic form, written for the organ. Sometimes it means a work that is held together by cyclic form as in the works of Franck and his school. But it always means a work in which the coloristic capabilities of the nineteenth century organ, especially as exemplified by the creations of Cavaillé-Coll, are utilized in the same way as the instruments of a full orchestra. On this disc we have the seventh symphony, which is like a suite, with thematic relationships between movements and the ninth, which is in the four movements of a regular symphony, but again with relationships between movements. They are played by Frédéric Ledroit, organist of Angoulême Cathedral, whose expertise I reviewed favorably a few months ago on a disc of Langlais (see review) on which he collaborated with Jerome Kauffman.
On this disc Ledroit pays the organ at the Madeleine. As happens with many recordings in this church some of the high notes are a little sharp and reverberation can be a problem. The seventh has six movements. The performance of the first movement is carefully constructed: there is no rushing here and a beautiful sense of tone. The choral of the second movement contains the material on which much of the rest of the symphony is based. This too is beautifully played, but again the dry sound of the grand organ interferes with the overall experience. Voicing and rhythm are excellently handled by Ledroit. The end of the movement consists of imaginative variations which lead into the third movement: light-hearted with a neo-classical tone and a pastoral middle section that Ledroit brings out well. The fourth movement Allegro is a long meditation which was probably an influence on Vierne-Ledroit handles the rhythmic contrasts in this and the fifth movement very ably. One drawback is that there is some background noise in these movements. The Finale demonstrates the organ at full throttle; it is almost too well captured by the engineers but in general the dynamic contrasts are well recorded.
The ninth Symphony is a very different work from the seventh and the latter’s three siblings. It is in the four movements of a classical symphony and incorporates the traditional choral, Puer natus est nobis, not one of the composer’s own creation. Along with the tenth symphony it marks a return to a greater concern with structure and its title Gothique refers to the architectural style of the place of its premiere: the Cathedral of Saint-Ouen in Rouen. The first movement is dense and serious, rather different from that of the seventh symphony. Ledroit seems a little uninspired when dealing with this movement, though his use of the reeds is very good. The recapitulation is well done, with good use of the swell, but the coda is not too exciting. In the following andante sostenuto Ledroit phrases the movement beautifully. The third movement is fugal, incorporating the Puer natus choral. The organ sounds its best in this movement, especially in the coda. The final movement consists of six variations on the Puer natus. Our soloist differentiates the variations well while still maintaining the structure of the overall movement. His use of the organ’s lower notes in the fourth variation is especially good, as is the return of the main theme in the pedals at the end, leading to a plein orgue followed by a serene choral and conclusion.
Overall this is a fine disc. There are occasional infelicities in the playing - especially in the ninth symphony and as indicated above there are moments when the organ does not sound at its best. Those who already have the complete symphonies with Ben van Oosten will not need this disc. For others they will serve very well, especially as Ledroit has recorded the fifth and sixth symphonies and may be planning to do all of them.
William Kreindler


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