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Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Works for Organ
First Symphony (1942) [33:01]
Suite Française (1949): Nazard & Arabesque [6:39]
Suite Brève (1947) [16:13]
Second Symphony 'Alla Webern' (1977) [5:07]
Poem of Happiness (1967) [6:13]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. Jack Singer Hall, Calgary, Canada, 6-8 September 1992. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5408 [67:58]

Experience Classicsonline

This CD was originally released in 1994, re-issued since at least once, and is still widely available on the internet. Kevin Bowyer's recordings for Nimbus have bequeathed to posterity around 50 almost without exception memorable CDs. The discography available on his website is three years out of date, but 14 pages long; his incredible Sorabji Organ Project is still unfolding, but its completion promises to be one of the greatest organ events in the history of music.
Bowyer is deeply familiar with the great French contemporaries of Jean Langlais, and their precursors, having learnt as a student the organ symphonies of Vierne, Widor and Dupré, and later recorded for Nimbus the organ works of Alkan (recently reviewed) and Alain, as well as Messiaen on Continuum and Alkan again on Toccata.
The first two of Langlais' three Symphonies for organ are the focal points of Bowyer's recital on one of Canada's best instruments, built by Casavant in 1987 at the Jack Singer Hall in Calgary. The First Symphony is most easily summed up with the word 'monumental', and its sprawling-towering sound-world is in many ways typical of Langlais' organ writing: complex, tonally mysterious, exalted, agitated, virtuosic, inventive. Though both Symphonies are in four movements, the whole of the Second is shorter than any single movement of the First - hence the subtitle 'Alla Webern'. Yet the Second Symphony has similar attributes in an ultra-condensed form, with the added kick of serialist writing!
The Suite Brève is more modest and witty - though still not exactly 'light' - as are the two movements of the Suite Française that precede it - it is unclear why Nimbus chose to plump up the CD by recording these two unconnected sections rather than some work in its entirety, when much of Langlais' organ music lies neglected - although American organist and Langlais disciple/scholar Ann Labounsky has recorded his complete works on 26 CDs for the US Musical Heritage Society over nearly a quarter of a century, apparently to be released soon in a boxed set, details of all of which are available on Labounsky's website.
The rhythmic and harmonic extravagances of the Poem of Happiness will not be everyone's idea of bliss, but the work brings Bowyer's splendid potted history of Langlais' organ music to an arresting end.
Sound quality is very good - this is one of Nimbus's best organ recordings. Only the very deepest sounds are compromised. The CD booklet, on the other hand, is more functional than anything: there is nothing at all about the Carthy organ, nor, surprisingly, about Bowyer - only one of the finest organists of modern times - but it is neat and the notes on Langlais and his organ music by Felix Aprahamian are informative.
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