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Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
L’orgue mystique Volume 6
Office Nr. 6 (22 April 1929) [21:56]
Office Nr.12 (16 Nov. 1929) [17:29]
Office Nr.30 (10 Jan. 1931) [16:20]
Office Nr.9 (10 Jun. 1929) [21:59]
Sandro R. Müller (organ)
Grosse Siefert-Weyland-Orgel (1929), Der Lieberfrauenkirche in Bottrop-Eigen
rec. 18-21 July 1996
CYBELE CD050.106 [77:54]

Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
L’orgue mystique - Volume 7
Office Nr. 36 (1 Apr. 1931) [19:06]
Office Nr.20 (18 Apr. 1930) [21:14]
Office Nr.37 (18 Apr. 1931) [17:12]
Office Nr.23 (7 Nov. 1928) [20:43]
Sandro R. Müller (organ)
Grosse Rieger-Orgel (1992), Der Stiftsund Propsteikirche St. Mariä Himmelfahrt, Kleve
rec. 30 June -3 July 1997
CYBELE CD050.107 [78:15]

Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
L’orgue mystique - Volume 8
Office Nr. 39 (16 May 1931) [19:10]
Office Nr.45 (2 Dec. 1931) [18:50]
Office Nr.50 (30 Jan. 1932) [20:26]
Office Nr.24 (16 Nov. 1930) [17:41]
Sandro R. Müller (organ)
Grosse Rieger-Orgel (1992), Der Stiftsund Propsteikirche St. Mariä Himmelfahrt, Kleve
rec. 30 June -3 July 1997
CYBELE CD050.108 [76:07]
Experience Classicsonline

As with all of the Cybele label’s complete edition of Charles Tournemire’s L’orgue Mystique, each of these volumes is available separately. I’ve covered most of the currently listed CDs in this unfurling series (see reviews of volumes 1 & 2 and 3 & 4, and have enjoyed every moment of the listening sessions and sense of discovery in travelling ever deeper into Tournemire’s musical voyage. I would be the last to devalue any aspect of such a huge project, but there is a sense in which, having heard one of the volumes, you will pretty much know what to expect from the others. Having come this far however, I do now have a greater appreciation of the subtle ways in which Tournemire treats plainchant, transforming it into something which can have the profoundest religious and meditative applications, but which also even now can sound modern, as well as refreshingly expressive and emotionally satisfying. It is indeed a world in which the clocks go on hold and the world seems to move at a slower pace. This is no bad thing, and indeed resonates with today’s times in which the spiritual aspects of ancient music are frequently a feature of the contemporary composer’s palette. I suppose what I am really driving at is that this review will be less about specifics and more about the general impressions left by playing these CDs, no doubt with a few highlights along the way.

If you’ve already taken the plunge and invested in one of the volumes from this series, then you will already have a good idea what to expect from the others. You will therefore also probably know if you are in for the long haul and want to collect the lot, or whether it’s not really your ‘thing’. If you have yet to dip your toes in these waters then I sincerely hope you gain as much from these pieces as I did. Based around the choreography of the Roman Catholic Mass, each Office has the same basic five movement structure. Quiet, introverted, often deceptively simple sounding and relatively brief movements which include such moments as the Offertoire and Communion build to a more substantial Pièce terminale, which brings the expressive core of each Office to the fore. Students and fans of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen will constantly hear moments in which both musical and technical aspects of Tournemire’s organ composition have had their influential effect. The polytonal harmonic features and cyclical aspect of the meditative Offertoire in the Office No.12 in Volume 6 are both clear pre-echoes of some of Messiaen’s work, and this is of course just one of many such examples. Tournemire is often seen as a more conservative figure in the French organ tradition, but there is no doubt that he laid many of the foundations for generations to come.

The essence of Tournemire in L’orgue Mystique is one of atmosphere. There are very few moments of extroversion, although the celebratory nature of some of the Christmas Pièces terminales is clearly defined. In this way there are moments with repeated notes in the Fantasie-Paraphrase finale of Office No.9 in volume 6 which approach something like Jehan Alain’s 1937 Litanies, although I think I’ve yet to catch Tournemire indulging in anything like the swinging syncopations in that particular piece. The booklet notes are very helpful in pointing out the biblical texts referred to in each piece, and while you can easily ignore these and appreciate the music on its own terms, the clues thus provided can give insights into the motivation behind the movements, and Tournemire’s own personal interpretation of the meanings behind the texts. While the overriding impression is one of restraint in the majority of the pieces, there is a remarkable amount of variety within and between the movements, and a great deal of inventiveness in the technical approach to the Pièces terminales of each Office. An inspired chorale with variations concludes the Office No.36, while that of the Office No.20 in volume 7 is a ‘virtuoso symphonic poem’, alternately celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph and imploring for our prayers to be heard through him.

While the finales for each Office are the most substantial piece in each, there are gems to be found all over the place elsewhere, and while the religious themes are more often than not serious, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Office No.37 sparkles both in the short canonic Elévation and the subsequent Communion, which respectively express the canta et ambula; singing and walking as the Lord’s spreading of goodness is transformed into music, and a playful pastorale on the theme of the giving and receiving of gifts. Pictorial images are also colourfully represented, and superbly expressed on the instrument used for these recordings. Have a listen to the Elévation of the Office No.23 in which a cloud passes over, conjured by marvellously bulky cluster chords.

Volume 8 is another substantial collection of four Offices, covering three of the Sunday services after Pentecost, and one from the sequence intended for Easter. Tournemire’s L’orgue Mystique is divided into the three great cycles of Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, and Sandro R. Müller and Cybele have wisely spread these out over the set rather than recording or releasing them sequentially. It is of course impossible to ignore the fact that these pieces were specifically written for use during church services, but while there will always be some listeners who have an allergy to religious significance in music I don’t find this to be any kind of an obstacle to appreciating this great cycle. I’m no Catholic myself, but do have a great deal of time for the expression of devotion in music - after all, if this were to be a problem I would also have to consider my position with regard to, say, a huge chunk of J.S. Bach’s work. I’m not about to undergo any kind of conversion, but the darkly mysterious, atmospheric and often aromatic aura which surrounds Catholicism does have a strange power and attraction which the good old Church of England just doesn’t possess. Tournemire’s L’orgue Mystique embodies this sense of secretive splendour, from the almost gaudy grandeur of the Choral Alléuiatique which closes Office No.45, to the simple clarity of movements such as the Elévation of Office No.24. All of this can be found amongst prescient movements such as the Prélude à l’introït of Office No.50, with the kind of bitter-sweet mixture of closely-knit harmonies against timeless plainchant whose effect on the young Messiaen can be heard palpably throughout that composer’s own output for organ.

Dominy Clements


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