This disc on Signum Classics features the wonderful sounds of
the famous organ from the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris played
by Joseph Nolan. The magnificent
organ case was designed by Jean Chalgrin to house the five manual
organ with pedals constructed by François-Henri Clicquot in 1781.
Later in 1857 organ-builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll commenced work
on a new instrument that preserved much of the previous organ.
as one of the world’s finest organs the 1862 Grandes Orgues
de Saint-Sulpice was I believe at one time acclaimed as part
of an esteemed group of three 100-stop European organs together
with the Walcker organ at Ulm Cathedral, Germany and the Willis
organ at St Georges Hall Liverpool, England. The Saint Sulpice organ has been played by many eminent musicians namely
Marcel Dupré and Charles-Mari Widor. Camille Saint-Saëns was organist
at the L'église de la Madeleine (1857-77) and it is difficult
to believe that at some point he would not have played the Saint Sulpice organ. The organ in
the church provides the setting for a vicious attack in the 2006
Ron Howard film The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks, Audrey
Tautou and Ian McKellen.
disc commences with a score from Léon Boëllmann a French composer/organist
who is best known today for his small output for organ. Boëllmann’s
most renowned work is his four movement Suite Gothique,
Op. 25 completed in 1895. The final two movements are often
played independently especially the brilliant Toccata.
Elgar’s Sonata No.2 for organ, Op.87a started
out its life in 1930 as the Severn Suite - a test piece
for brass band. Elgar’s friend Ivor Atkins, the organist at
Worcester Cathedral transcribed four movements of the piece
George Thalben-Ball wrote his Toccata Beorma in
1972 in response to the award of an Honorary Doctor of Music
from Birmingham University. The Poema was composed
later and in 1980 the two scores were published together.
I have greatly enjoyed the 1996 account of the Poema and
Toccata Beorma played by Ian Le Grice at the Temple Church,
London. Le Grice’s powerful performance is given on the Temple’s
1927 Harrison and Harrison organ, formerly located at Tabar
Castle at Aboyne, on Priory Records PRCD 569.
immense Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad nos, ad Salutarem, undam'
(To us, to the water of salvation) uses
the chorale from Meyerbeer’s successful five act grand
opera Le prophète from 1849. Composed in 1850 and dedicated
to Meyerbeer, Liszt swiftly capitalised on the tremendous
success of Le prophète. Liszt undertook several revisions
on the Fantasia and Fugue before its 1855 première
performance by soloist Alexander Winterberger at Merseburg
There are several splendid alternative versions of Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue in the
catalogues. Andreas Rothkopf performs with drama and assurance
on the Wilhelm Sauer organ of the Evangelische Stadtkirche, Bad
Homburg, Germany on Naxos (see review).
Hans-Jürgen Kaiser has also made a fine recording of the Fantasia
and Fugue in 1997 on the Frederich Ladegast organ in Dom in
Schwerin, Germany on Brilliant Classics (SACD) 92208. There is
much to admire in Robert Costin’s 2007 account of the Fantasia
and Fugue on the 1906 Norman and Beard organ of Wellington
Town Hall, New Zealand (see review).
On this Signum Classics disc I especially enjoyed the
opening movement Introduction - Chorale of Léon Boëllmann’s Suite Gothique a splendid way
for Joseph Nolan to demonstrate the power and magnificence
of the Saint Sulpice organ. The marked contrast of the light and intricate
Menuet Gothique displays the subtle side of the instrument.
More acclaimed as an organist than noted as a composer I found
Thalben-Ball’s second movement Toccata Beorma especially successful. Notwithstanding the considerable
technical challenges of Liszt’s monumental Fantasia and Fugue on 'Ad nos, ad salutarem undam' from Meyerbeer’s Le prophète
the soloist displays a myriad instrumental colours from the
spectacular to the poetic. Nolan’s interpretation is dramatic,
relentlessly surging pressing the music forwards in an admirable
The gallery organ of Saint Sulpice with its 102 stops,
135 ranks and around 7000 pipes is a remarkable instrument and
one of the finest I have heard on disc. Congratulations are in
order for the wonderful sound quality provided by the engineers.
These performances are full of spontaneity yet for all Nolan’s
brilliance he allows the requirements of the composer always to
take priority. The sympathy and expression that Nolan gives to
this music and the assurance of his results will undoubtedly give
this recital a special place amongst organ collectors.