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Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
L’orgue mystique - Volume 3
Office Nr.40 (29 May 1931) [20:54]
Office Nr.34 (16 Mar. 1931) [23:24]
Office Nr.35 (4 Feb. 1928) [26:15]
Sandro R. Müller (organ)
Grosse Rieger-Orgel (1969/70), Der Zisterzienserabtei Marienstatt
rec. 16-19 July 1995
CYBELE CD050.103 [73:40]

Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
L’orgue mystique - Volume 4
Office Nr.44 (18 Nov. 1931) [19:18]
Office Nr.38 (2 May 1931) [16:54]
Office Nr.21 (14 June 1930) [16:49]
Office Nr.49 (13 Jan. 1932) [17:35]
Sandro R. Müller (organ)
Grosse Rieger-Orgel (1969/70), Der Zisterzienserabtei Marienstatt
rec. 20-23 July 1995
CYBELE CD050.104 [70:36]
Experience Classicsonline

Having been mentally bashed around a bit by some of the more intellectually demanding items on the Cybèle catalogue - no names, no pack-drill - I find returning to Tournemire’s L’orgue mystique a bit like getting back into a nice hot bath after a badly timed incoming phone call. It’s a cold hard world out there, and the all-year continuity and sheer volume of Tournemire’s music allows even a lapsed agnostic such as myself to identify with the sense of security provided by having a place within such a vast Church - and I don’t mean Durham Cathedral. Appreciating the mysteries as expressed by Tournemire certainly shines a pretty bright light into the world of a composer such as Messiaen - not always necessarily in terms of style or content, but in terms of a kind of familial recognition: membership of that inner core of genuine believers.

This review covers volumes three and four in Cybele and Sandro R. Müller’s ongoing complete set of Charles Tournemire's L'orgue mystique. As I suggested in the review of the first two volumes, there really is nothing to fear from this huge work, which covers the entire Liturgical year in 51 ‘offices’ or Masses. These are grouped in three great cycles covering Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide.

Volume three has three of the offices from Whitsuntide or ‘Pentecôte’. Office No.40 presents a musical interpretation of the Assumptio or feast day celebrating the acceptance of Mary into Heaven. All of the five movements are slow, sustained pieces, celebrating what can be seen as a joyous part of the Christian calendar as a more awed, palpably wondrous but nonetheless restrained ascension. Only the final vast rising chorale - one of the highlights of the entire L'orgue mystique - raises us beyond the more introverted but fascinatingly dignified previous movements.  

The enormous climactic conclusion to the first five-movement set is followed by the Office No.34 and the Office No.35. These are less spectacular than the Assumption Mass, and use Gregorian melodies which are less well known as their basis. Gently conceived and relatively simple, the meditative Offertorium movements of both take the listener into beautiful, timeless worlds, and the atmosphere of almost the entirety of this disc is rich in a feeling of piety and devotion. The sense of medieval ritual is heightened still further in the bells which chime through the Elévation of Office No.35, also appearing later on as a richly sparking effect in the final moments of that work. As with the Office No.40 the Pièces terminales of each suite provide the greatest development in terms of musical material and imagery, that of the Office No.34 concluding with a majestic Supplication et Fugue modale, that of the Office No.35 being entitled Paraphrase-Carillon, and excitingly combining the hymn Ave maris stella in the treble with Salve Regina in the bass. It is in some of the more pictorial moments and exotic tonal relationships of this movement that you hear the kind of influential sounds which helped the young Messiaen on his way with his own organ music. This is a gorgeous organ CD in its own right, and inspires through understatement and sincerely personal religious expression.

Volume 4 continues with three Offices from Whitsuntide, and the Office No.21 which belongs to the Easter cycle. Office No.44 deals with the prophet Daniel. Both the depths of desolation and grim fortitude among the ruins of Jerusalem are expressed in reserved, slow moving pieces which unfold into some richly chromatic harmonies. The Communion is a fascinating statement, to my ears expressing a longing to reverse the waste of destruction. The Pièce terminale bursts out with a Chorale Alléluiatique expressing resurrection, as well as the fragmentary waves of something more apocalyptic.

The Office No.38 moves us back to the Old Testament, involving and invoking texts which include the prayers of Moses. Low tones often emphasise a different kind of mystical background in the earlier stages of this piece, and the Offertorium winds for almost half its length around a grimly held pedal tone. With the final Choral No.3, Tournemire combines a relevant religious hymn I shall praise the Lord forever, with the sounds of nature from his own environment; wheeling seagulls and turning windmills. The Office No.21 comes from Paul, and is also descriptive of the first signs of spring. The Pièce terminal in this case is a compelling Fresque Alléluiatique which defies the finality of death; “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead... death hath no more dominion over him.”

Office No.49 grapples with the dramatic story of Job, and manages to express both grief and the defiance of faith. Imposing and intensely convoluted harmonies are descriptive of anguish and fundamental strength on both sides, both human and divine. The Communion is a deceptively simple piece, which stretches into polytonality and chromaticism in order to express Job’s double prayer - that in which he prays that his prayers will be heard. The final fugue combines the hymn Ave maris stella in the treble with Salve Regina in the bass, a piece which seems to reach out, extending a warmth which welcomes, while at the same time resisting the platitudes of superficial comfort.

Once again, Sandro R. Müller plays with a fine sensitivity to the musical subtexts, and the Cybele engineers create a superb atmosphere from the Rieger organ in Marienstatt. These are very well put together programmes which should stand proudly at the heart of any good organ library. I keep emphasising that collectors should have no fear of entering this world, but the fact is, good recordings of these accessible and often wonderfully expressive and beautiful works are rare. Some critics see Messiaen’s incorporation of religious faith as an added barrier to their appreciation or non-appreciation of his music; and with Tournemire’s highest musical goal being the glorification of God then this may be a consideration for some. I don’t really feel this to be a problem, bearing in mind that on the strength of that kind of thinking we’d have to ditch most of J.S. Bach’s music at the same time. With these works’ substance in the less bombastic aspects of the French organ tradition and their basis in Gregorian plainchant, it seems to me remarkable that these works should be neglected. The sheer quantity of this complete cycle is at the same time both its weakness and its strength of course. It may seem a huge mountain to climb, but I for one am genuinely delighted that there is so much yet to come.

Dominy Clements


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