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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto for organ, timpani and strings in G minor (1938) [22:37]
Joseph JONGEN (1873-1953)
Symphonie Concertante, Op.81 (1926) [34:52]
Berj Zamkochian (organ)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch (Poulenc)
Virgil Fox (organ)
Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra/Georges Prêtre (Jongen)
rec. 1961, Boston (Poulenc) undated (Jongen)
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDCD288 [58:22]

If you start bottom-up, a casual look at the performers might lead you to think that these two pieces for organ and orchestra are both conducted by Georges Prêtre. That’s true for the Jongen but not for the Poulenc, which he did record with Maurice Duruflé in Paris for EMI. The recording with Duruflé is certainly, by a long way, a better-known recording than Jongen’s 1926 Symphonie Concertante. In fact the Poulenc in this HDTT transfer is in the capable hands of organist Berj Zamkochian, the Boston Symphony and Charles Munch in 1961.
 
Munch first, then. This Poulenc undertaking was part of a familiar raft of French pieces that proved so stylistically compatible with both conductor and orchestra. It’s hardly necessary to elaborate on his Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ravel recordings; more pertinent in this case, perhaps, is his command of the very differing idioms of d’Indy (Symphonie sur un chant montagnard), Milhaud (La Création du monde and Suite provençale) and Honegger - especially the Second and Fifth Symphonies. In fact both Munch and Prêtre in their own ways prove commanding interpreters of Poulenc’s Concerto. The recording, produced by Max Wilcox, was made in 1961 and has been transferred here from an RCA 4-track tape. The results are highly satisfactory, capturing the organ perspective with clarity. The elegance of the Bostonians Gallicised string section pays dividends throughout. The Très calme slow section near the work’s heart is especially effective, and though there’s inherent overload leading into the re-establishment of the initial Allegro - and indeed at a couple of places elsewhere - it’s not difficult to overlook this given how movingly the Largo is conveyed.
 
The Jongen is undated but was transferred from a 4-track tape. Since the organist is in constant motion one needs an executant of stature, for which reason Virgil Fox is on hand. The strings of the Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra are lean and attentive. Prêtre encourages lithe articulation in the Divertimento and is attentive as to dynamics and sculpting in the slow movement, where the quietly reflective music is well-paced. The florid, cinematic finale, a Toccata of rip-roaring vitality, is cast in the best Franco-Belgian style - no wonder fellow Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe was so complimentary about Jongen. The end is positively thrilling in every way.
 
These two works make a good ‘best buddies’ case, though they are expressively rather different and stylistically divergent.
 
Jonathan Woolf