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French Organ Music
Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
Improvisation on “Victimae Paschali”, transcribed by Duruflé [10:00]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Four fantasy pieces: Clair de Lune [9:00]; Toccata [4:14]; Impromptu [3:22]; Carillon de Westminster [6:48]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
La banquet celeste [7:43]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Prelude and Fugue in B major, Op 7 No 1 [6:54]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Suite, Op. 5 [24:46]
Pétur Sakari (organ)
rec. April 2013, St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris
BIS BIS-1969 SACD [72:47]

Pétur Sakari, making his recording debut for BIS, is an organist and the son of Petri Sakari, the conductor whom you may know for his high-quality interpretations of Sibelius, Alfvén, Madetoja and other Scandinavian composers. The younger man started learning organ after, as a child, angrily kicking at the piano where he wished there were more pedals. Now he pursues advanced studies, including improvisation, in Paris.
He couldn’t have asked for a better debut showcase: five French composers evoking that nation’s great organ tradition; spectacular SACD sound and, at eClassical, the opportunity to download the performances at better-than-CD-quality sampling rates. Add to that list the organ of St-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris, originally completed in 1636. The organ has undergone several revisions since, although the Organs of Paris website quaintly notes that many of the stops date from “before the revolution”, lowercase, as if this is no surprising thing. Maurice Duruflé was organist there for years, and his successor, the talented composer Thierry Escaich, is now one of Pétur Sakari’s teachers.
Though still young, Sakari appears to have earned the trust this disc suggests. He is consistently impressive from first note to last, and his booklet notes often add a personal dimension to the interpretations. His powerful, bleak performance of Duruflé’s mighty Suite, on the organ for which it was written, is a culmination of his studies with the successors of Monsieur and Madame Duruflé - who was also an organist. And it’s also dedicated to his mother, who, before her untimely death, insisted Sakari fly to Paris to study the work further. She lived long enough to sit beside him on the bench as he practised it.
There is a smart alternation of “heavy” and “light” music on programme. Charles Tournemire’s mighty chorale-improvisation, a ten-minute emotional epic that it’s hard to believe somebody made up on the fly, is contrasted with the peaceful “Clair de lune” from Louis Vierne, which uses the very highest flute-like notes above a low bass drone. And that, in turn, contrasts with the other Vierne selections, including the turbulent, awe-inspiring “Toccata” and “Carillon de Westminster,” which needs no introduction here.
We are also treated to Messiaen’s Le banquet céleste, a mesmerizing study in slow, calm meditation - dare I say minimalism - which has a curious way of seeming too long at first and, later on, not nearly long enough. The playing is superbly colourful. Again, Sakari generates big contrasts by pairing this with Marcel Dupré’s dazzling, fiendishly difficult prelude and fugue.
The organ of St.-Étienne-du-Mont is sounding glorious. I’m all the more excited to be visiting the church soon. The instrument is ravishing, at or near a sort of Platonic ideal of what the organ should be. BIS’s sound captures it so well I thought about buying better equipment for it. This was with the CD version, not the allegedly even higher-fi download. To give you an idea, the very last chord of the Duruflé suite lasts exactly ten seconds, after which the sound lingers as glorious reverb for a good four seconds.
All told, this is an auspicious debut and a big treat for we, the listeners.
Brian Reinhart