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Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
Organ Music - Improvisations
Te deum laudamus: Intonation & Hymnus [8:32]; Improvisation sur le »Te Deum« [6:24]
Pièce symphonique op. 16 (pub.1899) [8:55]
Dix Pièces (dans le style libre) [10:42] (1900)
Petite rhapsodie improvisé (1930/31) [4:15]
Ave maris stella: Hymnus (Schola) [3:39]; Fantaisie-Improvisation sur l’»Ave Maris stella« [11:27]
Cantilène improvisée (1930/31) [4:49]
Dix Pièces (dans le style libre contd.) [6:11]
Adagio op. 19 Nr. 1 [2:27]
Victimae paschali laudes: Hymnus [2:17]; Choral-Improvisation sur le »Victimae paschali« [9:02]
Andreas Sieling (organ)
Sauer-Orgel, Berliner Dom, Schola der Berliner Domkantorei
Tobias Brommann (Domkantor)
rec. Berliner Dom, Schola der Berliner Domkantorei, Spring 2008
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG94615146 [79:05]
Experience Classicsonline

I have for a very long time been a great fan of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen, and also been aware that he formed part of a French tradition which went back from his own teacher Marcel Dupré, and on further backwards through Widor, Franck and beyond. Charles Tournemire has been cited as an influence on Messiaen, Duruflé, Langlais and others of later generations, but was always something of a missing link in my consciousness – something of a gap which this magnificent recording goes a long way towards filling.
 
Tournemire attended the organ classes of César Franck at the Paris Conservatoire, and took his final exam there under Widor in 1891. He succeeded Franck’s heir Gabriel Pierné at Sainte-Clotilde in Paris, playing the Cavaillé-Coll organ there until his death.
 
While Tournemire’s organ work is chiefly melodic and exists within the traditions set out by his teachers, there is a certain ‘sound’ which is constantly pushing at these boundaries, and those who know Messiaen’s work will find their ears twitching now and again, recognising certain gestures and techniques which that grand master of the 20th century turned to his own use, doubtless after having studied those of his musical ancestor.
 
The central work on this disc derives from Tournemire’s Cinq Improvisations, which the organist performed for commercial recordings in 1930/31. These are apparently available on a CD of his ‘Complete Recordings’, and it would be fascinating to compare those with Andreas Sieling’s performances. The pieces were transcribed by Tournemire’s pupil Marcel Dupré, so we have both a recorded legacy and the published manuscripts. On this disc, the three last improvisations are preceded by the Gregorian hymns referred to in the titles, and on which the pieces are based. This is a useful way of pointing out the significant themes in the works, and show Tournemire’s skill in improvising around them. Andreas Sieling’s own booklet notes tell us that these improvisations form a kind of bridge between the earlier works which fill the rest of the disc, and Tournemire’s huge masterpiece L’Orgue Mystique, which in a complete recording fills something like 12 discs, and was written to cover the entire liturgical year. The improvisations differ from the earlier works, introducing greater freedoms and a certain amount of chromaticism. None of the pieces are particularly ‘difficult’ in terms of idiom, but do inevitably show a great amount of technical display on the organ – with plenty of special effects, extended build-ups and a maximum range of colour. It is often these impressionistic touches, some very catchy harmonic ‘hooks’ and their combination with otherwise often quite static themes, which provide the feeling of your later composers in embryo. All of this comes across with startling richness from the Sauer-Orgel in the Berliner Dom. Swell effects, Voix humaine, the full works are all thrown into the mix here, and each piece is a rich feast in musical well as sonic terms.
 
The other works on the disc were written around 1900, and have to be considered relatively early works, only occasionally hinting at the mysticism to come. The Pièce symphonique and the Adagio are both strongly influenced by Franck, and the tradition of Vierne and Widor. While not stretching this stylistic background, these works have great charm and show compositional flair and facility, as well as a detailed understanding and sensitivity to the capabilities of the instrument. The Dix Pièces (dans le style libre) were originally written for harmonium, or organ with an optional pedal part. These are gorgeous pieces, full of tenderness and warmth of expression. They prove that less can be more, and that an economy of style and technical input can produce music of great stature, albeit on a small scale.
 
Divided into two groups of five, the Dix Pièces provide relatively quiet or ‘easy’ oases in the programme for this CD. None of the other music is particularly taxing however, the recital ending with the gritty Choral-Improvisation sur le “Victimae paschali” which is something of a blockbuster of virtuosity, dealt with in capable and spectacular style by Andreas Sieling.  His touch is rhythmically sound even when all the coffee cups are rattling in their saucers, and I’ve admired his playing both in terms of articulation and melodic phrasing. He seems to be able to obtain the best from the music at all times, being expressive in the simpler textures and transparent when more stops are out than in. MDG’s 2+2+2 SACD recording is of demonstration quality, balancing the entire range in what sounds to me to be an entirely natural fashion. This brings across all of the sonorous excitement of a grand instrument in a magnificent acoustic without emphasising or overweighing or spotlighting any one part of either. This release is both an education and a delight, and I shall be keeping an eye out for that L’Orgue Mystique, from the same team, I hope.
 
Dominy Clements
 

 


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