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Lyrita New Recording
Decca Phase 4
Complete Organ Works - Volume I
Pièce en mi bémol (1846) [9:16]
Pièce pour Grand Orgue (1854) [9:53]
Andantino (G minor), M 25 (1856) [5:37]
Fantaisie (C major) first version (1856)
Cinq Pièces pour Harmonium, transcrites pour Grand Orgue
par Louis Vierne, M 26 (1858-63) [15:26]
Offertoire (A major) (1858} [1:22]
Fantaisie (C major) second version (1863)
Quasi Marcia, M 34/Op. 22, for harmonium (1865)
(transcribed for organ by Hans-Eberhard Ross) [5:14]
Six Pièces pour Grande Orgue (1859-63)
I. Fantaisie (C major), Op. 16 [11:55]
II. Grande Pièce Symphonique, Op. 17 [23:31]
III. Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18 [9:44]
IV. Pastorale, Op. 19 [9:01]
V. Prière, Op 20 [12:34]
VI. Final, Op. 21 [9:06]
rec. 2004/5, Church of St Martin, Memmingen, Germany
AUDITE 91.518 [70:34
the cat off the hook and throw out the phone – you won’t
want to be disturbed for the next two and a half hours. Why?
Because this is an organ collection like no other, magnificently
played on the new Goll instrument at St Martin, Memmingen.
And if you think you know your Franck be prepared for a surprise – these
performances are nothing short of revelatory.
hybrid CD/SACD set is the first in Audite’s three-volume
survey of Franck’s œuvre for organ, played by Hans-Eberhard
Ross. A graduate of the Hochschule für Musik in Würzburg
and now music director of St Martin, Ross has at his disposal
the splendid Goll organ inaugurated in 1998. The Audite website
has some interesting video clips on the instrument and its
construction, which will surely be of interest to organ buffs.
Martin Weyer points out in his detailed liner-notes ‘historically
informed performance practice’ or HIPP – already familiar
in orchestral and instrumental repertoire – has a parallel
in organ music. In this case the Goll instrument was chosen
because it has similar qualities to the Cavaillé-Coll organs
Franck would have known, especially that of his last post
at the Basilica Sainte Clotilde.
devotees will know that he came to the organ relatively late
in life and this collection begins with the Pièce en mi
bémol, his earliest work for the instrument. At the time
he was organist at the not very prestigious Notre Dame de
Lorette, whose older Cavaillé-Coll probably accounts for
this work’s limited colour palette. That said one is immediately
struck by the heroic grandeur at the start and finish of
the piece but even more so by the delicately-wrought writing
real star throughout is the Goll organ, which is simply astonishing
in its purity and accuracy of tone, qualities the Audite
engineers have captured to perfection. No audible clanks
and wheezes, dodgy reeds or excessive reverberation here;
indeed, this is one of the most satisfying organ discs I’ve
heard in years. In its basic CD form it’s a fine recording,
full and clear, but in SACD the music sounds even more clean-limbed
and well articulated, the quieter passages luminously beautiful.
pour Grand Orgue and the G minor Andantino have
a new-found rhythmic vitality that Ross conveys with considerable
grace and skill. In the former that marvellous section
beginning at 2:10 where the notes seem to hang suspended
above a deep, steady pedal, not to mention the carillon-like
figures at 6:40, are a joy to hear. And in the Andantino Ross
adds remarkable poise and charm to his growing list of
accomplishments. Surely this music has never sounded so
airy and buoyant, the rhythms so naturally sprung? And
have the final moments ever seemed so like a lingering
farewell? A miraculous little piece, so perfectly shaped
gentle introduction to the C major Fantaisie, played
here in the first of three versions, is another of those
moments when it seems a veil has been lifted from the music,
such is the startling realism of the recording. All three
versions are included in this set but I much prefer the lighter,
more ‘hear through’ quality of the first; that said the later
versions retain much of the original’s magical melodies.
pupil Louis Vierne arranged the Cinq Pièces – written
for harmonium – yet the composer’s distinctive style is left
intact. Indeed, apart from what Weyer describes as a few ‘careful
alterations’ all Vierne needed to do was transcribe the music
from two staves to three. And even though all the movements
are essentially Andantes such is the range and shade of Franck’s
colour palette that this never feels like too much of a good
remaining pieces on disc one – the brief little Offertoire in
A major and the Quasi Marcia – are very similar; the
first is light and ethereal and, despite its title, the second
sounds even more so. The latter may be a transcription but
Franck’s pealing melodies are just captivating, the whole
piece a model of restraint and elegance.
collection is subtitled ‘From Prodigy to Composer’ and disc
two contains works that date from Franck’s tenure at Sainte
Clotilde. It was an important appointment and one he was
to hold until his death in 1890. The third (1868) version
of the C major Fantaisie shows just how much Franck
the composer had matured in two decades. Whichever version
one might prefer they all share a limpid beauty and, at times,
an understated majesty that’s hard to resist. Certainly the
pedals of the Goll organ won’t shake the rafters but they
do have thrilling weight and authority.
Pièce Symphonique is often trotted out in organ collections
but I can’t remember it sounding quite so integrated or
the harmonies so dark and velvety. Certainly there is an
extra breadth and weight to the writing compared with Franck’s
earlier works, and while there is less of that high loveliness
Ross does manage to capture the score’s air of Gallic sophistication.
As always the acoustic is a real advantage, with complex
musical textures – so often blurred or bloated – sounding
wonderfully crisp and coherent.
easy to forget that Bach’s organ works – published in 1844 – were
still a novelty, yet Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation, with
its endless stream of melodies above a stern but gentle
bass line, is every bit as rewarding as Bach’s. A quick CD/SACD
comparison at this point reveals extra bloom and nuance in
the treble, with a sense of unlimited space above and around
the notes. A reminder, if one were needed, of the format’s
many sonic advantages.
Op. 19 Pastorale comes across as one of the most delectable
pieces on this extraordinary set. I simply cannot imagine
this diaphanous score shaped with more finesse than here.
Perhaps one could go so far as to characterise this as faerie
music à la Franck, such is its lightness and charm.
Prière, dedicated to the composer’s erstwhile teacher François Benoist (1794-1878),
isn’t particularly liturgical but it does have an air of
solemnity to it. It may even seem a little dour after the
playful Pastorale but the composer’s irrepressible
lyricism is never too far away – just listen to that sublime
tune that materialises at 5:52.
grave, even a little dry, Prière gives way to the
extrovert Op. 21. As the finale to the Six Pièces and
the set this shows Franck at his most Lisztian. The music
veritably thunders and rolls around the church in a spectacular
display of music-making. But even in such bravura pieces
Ross retains a remarkable consistency of approach, favouring
a subtle, self-effacing style of playing that suits this
music so well.
isn’t the first time the fabulous Goll organ has been committed
to disc; Ross has recorded a mixed programme for IFO (IFO45),
Ulfert Smidt has taped some Franck and Langlais for MDG (MDG
90614) and Jane Parker Smith plays an eclectic mix of pieces
for Avie (AVI-34). I have yet to these but I’d be very surprised
if they come even close to the sonic and musical splendour
of this Audite release.
of course there are two more instalments in this series – Audite
91.519 and 91.520 – which, if Volume I is anything to go
by, must make this the finest and most satisfying survey
now before the public. One hesitates to use the word ‘great’ but
in this case nothing else will do.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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