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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Symphonie No.3, Op.28 (1912, dedicated to Marcel Dupré) [28:26]
Symphonie No.5, Op.47 (1923-5, dedicated to Joseph Bonnet) [38:05]
Samuel Kummer (Kern organ, Frauenkirche Dresden)
rec. Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany, 18-22 November 2007. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French and German and organ specification.
CARUS 83.405 [66:40]
Experience Classicsonline

I wouldn’t have associated the Kern organ in the Dresden Frauenkirche with the music of the French romantics had it not been for the fact that Samuel Kummer’s initial recital on that organ, part of the ‘First Three Days’ Festival after the re-consecration, consisted of the music of Bach, Brahms, Reger and Kummer himself (all predictable) and Vierne (less predictable.)
And he has already achieved the feat of successfully performing French music on this instrument on an earlier Carus recording of Bach and Dupré (83.188). As Dominy Clements writes in his review of that CD:
It is as if the Kern organ has somehow completely transformed itself, proving its sound spectrum to be easily the equal of many a romantic French instrument.
A section of the booklet of this new Carus SACD is devoted to a description of the organ of the Frauenkirche, severely damaged by Allied bombing towards the end of World War II and restored by Daniel Kern. Perhaps ‘restored’ is not really the correct word, since, although the notes refer to the process as a rebuild, with the opportunity taken to add further stops to the original Silbermann design of 1736, the restored instrument of 2005 is much more versatile than its predecessor, with the potential to sound like the Cavaillé-Coll organs which Vierne and other late-romantic French composers had in mind. Significantly Kern, like Silbermann before him, has connections with Strasbourg, that crossing-point of French and German culture.
Page 23 of the booklet gives a full specification of the organ, including the Récit expressif, which is the chief reason for its suitability for the music of Vierne, ranging from two 16’ stops, Bourdon and Basson to the 1’ Piccolo stop. The only other information which I would have liked would have been the registration for each movement.
The Dutch independent company DE Versluis has already recorded all the Vierne symphonies with three different organists – Bert de Hertog in No.3 and Kees Gelug in No.5 – a recording which Dominy Clements praised for its enterprise, but which he found a little disappointing (3 CDs, DEV-VI1010 – see review).
DC compared the Versluis recording with the ‘benchmark’ recordings of Ben van Oosten on MDG, especially with regard to the larghetto fourth movement of No.5. Here he remarked on van Oosten’s ability not to sound sluggish despite an overall timing of 12 minutes against Gelug’s 10:57. I was, therefore, surprised to find that Kummer on the new Carus recording takes only 8:52 for this movement (track 9) without seeming in any way too fast. (No, that’s not a misprint, either here or in the booklet – my CD deck confirms the timing.) This one movement seems to account for most of the difference between Kummer’s 38:05 and Geluk’s 41:25 overall.
If Kummer is around 3 minutes faster than Geluk in No.5, the same is true of his account of No.3 by comparison with de Hertog, though, once again, I thought his tempi absolutely right in this symphony. Comparing his timings with those of Bruno Mathieu on a widely recommended Naxos recording (8.553524, coupled with No.6), Kummer on paper appears even more extreme, especially on tracks 4, Adagio and 5, Final, yet here, too, his tempo makes complete sense within the terms of his overall performance. The Adagio movement has plenty of forward momentum without sounding in any way hurried – indeed, if I were looking for adjectives to describe it, ‘sensitive’ and ‘reflective’ would come to mind, and these are surely suitable qualities for this music. If he lets rip in the Final a little more than his rivals, that, too, is surely within the spirit of the music. As always, timings are only part of the picture.
Sometimes tempi do matter a great deal, though: I’d forgotten how universally a slow tempo for the opening movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto had established itself until I recently rediscovered the Heifetz /Reiner version – you can get it in sound much improved on that of the LP on which I first heard it, along with other gems of the past, for a mere £1.99 from the classicsoline archive.
Perhaps changes made by the new Carus edition, employed for this recording (see below) are partly responsible. I’m sure that it would be prohibitively expensive for Carus to provide these new scores for reviewers but, without them, one can’t be sure.
The notes remind us that Vierne’s original manuscripts are often hard to decipher, owing to his congenitally defective eyesight – an assertion borne out by the rather spidery illustration on page 5 and the equally shaky signature Louis Vierne organiste de Notre-Dame de Paris on the cover– and they draw attention to the new Laukvik and Sanger editions, just published by Carus themselves (18.153 and 18.155). Since this is the first recording to employ these corrected editions, in a sense it replaces all previous versions. With playing at all times sensitive to the mood of the music, it can stand as the new benchmark for these works.
DC found the Versluis recording unhelpful. Carus’s recording on the new SACD is both clear and full – the sound of a large-scale organ from its softest to its loudest perfectly conveyed, even in ordinary stereo. There’s plenty of air around the instrument without the reverberation being in any way excessive.
The notes in the attractive booklet are helpful and informative, even in the slightly abridged and slightly stilted, but perfectly comprehensible English translation.
The heading Viernes Orgelwerke on the front cover seems to indicate that Carus intend to complete the series. We already have the complete MDG series (4 CDs, 316 0732 2) and Pierre Cochereau’s classic set on the Notre Dame organ is available from Solstice (3 CDs, SOCD911-3). There is a rival series underway on the Festivo label, on a Cavaillé-Coll organ, too – see Chris Bragg’s generally positive review of Volume 3. If Naxos complete the Mathieu Bruno cycle, there will be yet another, but we can’t have too much of a good thing.
Brian Wilson


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