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History of the Organ: Volume 3 – The Golden Age
Louis MARCHAND (1669-1732)
Plein Jeu [2:48]
Organ Pieces [7:45]
Jean-Francois DANDRIEU (1682-1738)
Noel [2:55]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
“Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [4:35]
Concerto in A minor (after Vivaldi) [4:12]
In Dulci Jubilo [2:14]
Prelude and Fugue in E minor [7:27]
André Isoir (organ); Gustav Leonhardt (organ)
rec. Sainte-Cecile, Albi and the Benedictine Abbey at Weingarten, 1997
Region Code 0, Aspect Ration 4:3, PCM Stereo only
Experience Classicsonline

It’s difficult to know who this DVD is aimed at because it falls between a number of stools.  Its title is a bit deceptive because there is almost no “history” here. There is a reference to earlier volumes each treating music of composers from the same period, but there is little attempt to place them into any historical context, and there is certainly no sense of charting an evolving musical style.  Three composers are explored very briefly in a way that wouldn’t please the admirers of any of them, and we are shown two different instruments, but briefly and with barely any analysis whatsoever.  While there are some brief insights into the organ-builder’s craft, they are very brief, and they certainly don’t seem to be the central focus of the disc.  So while this DVD ticks lots of boxes, it doesn’t deal satisfactorily with any of them and the viewer is left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the whole experience.

The format is a bit puzzling too.  The narrator takes us to two very different churches where we’re given a brief history of the building and its acoustic, then the organist plays a couple of pieces with very little explanation.  The little comment given is rather teacher-ish without bringing much by way of insight.  In between, we are shown the inside of an organ-builder’s workshop in the south of France.  They guide us through the process of making pipes and bellows, but this episode feels disjointed and it looks like a cut-and-paste job rather than working towards a coherent programme. 

The music should be the main component of this DVD.  The playing, when we get round to it, is certainly very fine.  The stereo sound is good, though it makes you regret that there is no surround option for this of all instruments.  It’s pretty dull to watch, though.  We get shots of the organist’s hands, occasionally his feet on the pedals, and various views of the pipes, but there’s little else to look at.  It’s interesting to see the effect that takes place when the particular organist activates certain stops, but with organ music of this period such effects are few and far between. 

A bit of a damp squib, then.  I’d far rather listen to a CD of this music, recorded in a good acoustic, with nothing to distract me from what I hear.  The booklet notes have no bearing whatsoever on the content of the disc.

Simon Thompson


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