A Vision of Eternity
Otto OLSSON (1879-1964)
Credo Symphoniacum (Symphony No. 2) Op. 50 (1925) [44:30]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Symphonie Romane Op. 73 (1900) [33:18]
Georges Athanasiadès (organ)
rec. 31 May-2 June 2011, Basilica de Saint-Maurice in Saint-Maurice, Switzerland. DDD
TUDOR 7190 [77:58]
At first glance these two works would seem a natural pairing as both are organ symphonies based on plainchant. Looking at them more closely we find two composers with very different definitions of the term “organ symphony”.
Olsson’s Credo Symphoniacum, subtitled Symphony No. 2, dates from 1925, although its date is sometimes listed as 1918. Each of its three movements is based on plainchant and is descriptive of one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The first movement is in sonata form and based on the Gregorian “Credo in unum Deum” and “Patrem Omnipotem, but fails to generate much interest. More stimulating is the second movement which uses “Jesus Christus nostra salus” as the basis for a programmatic description of the Passion. The finale on “Veni Creator Spiritus” is the most impressive movement with its vigorous contrapuntal development of the work’s main themes succeeded by a serene conclusion. While the Credo Symphoniacum contains much fine music it is not at all symphonic in its impact and reminds one of a more serious version of Respighi’s Church Windows.
Widor is considered to be the father of the organ symphony and his group of ten symphonies range from mere collections of pieces (1-4) to works of greater thematic integration (5-8) to true symphonies (9-10). The last of these is titled Symphonie Romane in homage to the Romanesque Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse and to its magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ. The entire symphony is based on the Gradual for Easter Haec dies which Widor develops in a very Romantic manner in the moderato first movement and with great feeling in the succeeding Choral. The third movement introduces new material which the composer ably combines with fragments of the Haec dies. The Final starts out with the grandiosity usual in such movements (cf. Symphony No. 6 ) but ends gently.
Georges Athanasiadès has been titulaire (as well as a canon) at the Abbey of Saint- Maurice for decades. He is also a teacher and author and the founder of the International Saint-Maurice d’Agaune Organ Competition and can be heard on a number of Tudor discs. He has an amazing talent for instrumental colour and brings a great deal of subtlety to his performances. On the negative side, his pacing is frequently too deliberate and he occasionally gets lost in details. The organ at St. Maurice might not seem ideal for the music on this disc but Athanasiadès’ long tenure there enables him to produce every needed tone colour. Both of these works are available in other recordings (see link 1) so this disc cannot be a primary recording, but it is notable for the sincerity and skill of Athanasiadès’ performance.
Sincere and skilful, if not overly exciting performances of two contrasting organ symphonies.
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