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Festival au grand-orgue
Dom Richard Gagné (organ)
rec. 2014, Église Abbatiale de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Québec, Canada
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from eClassical.com
Pdf booklet included

This enticing new album represents a number of firsts for me; I’ve not reviewed anything from the Montreal-based ATMA Classique before, and I’ve not yet encountered the organist Dom Richard Gagné or the Karl Wilhelm instrument on which he plays. I must confess the ‘Festival’ in the title put me in mind of the ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Spectaculars’ favoured by recording companies and organ buffs alike. Rest assured, this is not one of those flamboyant, over-engineered releases whose stock is apt to plummet after just a few auditions.

Québécois Dom Richard Gagné (b. 1964) sounds like an intriguing character. After his musical education he entered the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, and was ordained a priest there in 1984. The Romanian-born organ-builder Karl Wilhelm is even more interesting. He learned his craft with Laukhuff in Germany and Metzler in Switzerland. He then worked for Casavant Frères before setting up on his own account in 1966. The predominant character of the firm’s instruments owes much to the German model of the 17th and 18th centuries. The specifications of the Saint-Benoît-du-Lac organ, built in 1998-1999, are given in the booklet.

This well-chosen programme consists of arrangements by Gagné, and several others, of works written for diverse ensembles from as far back as the late 1500s. Schein’s Sonne der Gerechtigkeit (Sun of Righteousness) and Gesualdo’s galliard set out the nature of organ and player alike. Both are warm and engaging, and the music-making has a discreet loveliness that’s been well caught by the ATMA team. It’s a modest instrument – Gagné isn’t self-asserting, either – but Purcell’s Fanfare in C adds a dash of weight and splendour to the mix. The two trumpet tunes flank the darkly reflective Ayre for Organ; it’s tastefully ornamented, too.

Rarely have I felt so embraced by an organ recital. I suspect the intimacy of this acoustic and Gagné’s beautifully proportioned playing have much to do with that. There are no misjudgements here, no jarring juxtapositions, and the naturally balanced recording is a model of its kind. After the grace and airiness of those Purcell pieces Vavilov’s Ave Maria has a rich glow and gentle tread that had me fumbling for the Repeat button. And the grand – but not grandiloquent – Rigaudon from André Campra’s opera Idomenée (1712) finds majesty and sparkle in perfect poise.

The Bach pieces are just as captivating. Gagné’s judicious use of pedals and the organ’s pellucid upper registers combine to make the ubiquitous Air on the G string seem newly minted. In Durufle’s Jesu joy of man’s desiring Gagné garlands the deeper, more resonant tones with lighter, fluted ones; the latter rise to the rafters with ease and astonishing purity. These two items and the gruff Allegro from Torelli’s Violin Concerto in D minor underline just how beautifully voiced this instrument is; they also confirm Gagné as a musician of compelling sensitivity and charm.

The 19th century kicks off with strongly characterised accounts of Faure’s incidental music for Edmond Haraucourt’s play Shylock (1889). There are three arrangers here, including the noted American composer and organist Virgil Fox, who also arranged the sumptuous fanfare from Act 3 of Wagner’s Parsifal. Even though this is an exhibition piece worthy of Liszt, Gagné dispatches it with a modicum of restraint and good taste. As always the organ’s ‘thousand voices’ are as lucid and refined as one could wish.

Marcel Dupré, the celebrated organist, composer and improviser, also wrote music for other instruments and ensembles; his Cortège et Litanie of 1922, for 11 theatre musicians, was subsequently published as the second in a suite of four pieces for piano. The work is heard here in the composer’s own, big-boned arrangement for organ. Gagné handles these twists and flourishes without fluster; happily the recording retains its composure, even under pressure. And goodness, how Gagné makes the flames lick and leap in the Falla.

The Petit Adagio from Glazunov’s The Seasons is pleasing, if a little soupy; by contrast Gagné’s forensic arrangement of Edward MacDowell’s AD 1620, from his Sea Pieces of 1898, sounds much more forensic. There’s more Americana, with rhythmically alert performances of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever – arranged by organ virtuoso E. Power Biggs – and Gagné’s spirited Finale from Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha. In between all this ebullience Saint-Saëns’s enigmatic swan glides with its customary elegance.

What an attractive and entertaining collection this is, and how well is sounds. Gagné’s liner-notes are terse but informative, and the whole package is well presented.

A spirit-lifting programme, superbly played and recorded; more, please.

Dan Morgan

Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630)
Sonne der Gerechtigkeit (arr. Dom Richard Gagné) [0:41]
Carlo GESUALDO (1561-1614)
Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa (arr. Gagné) [1:59]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Westminster Suite (arr. Gagné; *arr. Herbert Fricker)
Fanfare in C [0:56]
Bonduca – Trumpet Tune [1:54]
Ayre for Organ [2:06]
Trumpet Tune [1:34]*
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618) / Vladimir VAVILOV (1925-1973)
Ave Maria (arr. Gagné) [3:18]
André CAMPRA (1660-1744)
Idomenée – Rigaudon (arr. Gagné) [2:30]
Johann Sebastian BACH 1685-1750
Air on the G string, BWV 1068 (arr. Gagné) [3:21]
Jesu joy of man’s desiring, BWV 147 (arr. Maurice Duruflé) [3:43]
Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709)
Violin Concerto in D minor – Allegro (arr. Johann Gottfried Walther) [3:14]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Entr’acte (arr. Gagné) [4:09]
Nocturne (arr. Virgil Fox) [3:42]
Pavane (arr. Martin Setchell) [5:54]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal – Fanfare from Act 3 (arr. Fox) [1:57]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Cortège et Litanie, Op. 19 No. 2 (arr. Dupré) [6:10]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El amor brujo – Ritual Fire Dance (arr. Gagné) [4:07]
Alexandre GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons – Petit Adagio (arr. Gagné ) [3:57]
Edward Alexander MACDOWELL (1860-1908)
Sea Pieces – AD 1620 (arr. Gagné) [3:28]
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
The Stars and Stripes Forever (arr. E. Power Biggs) [4:08]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1931)
Carnival of the Animals – The Swan (arr. Gagné) [3:08]
Scott JOPLIN (1867-1917)
Treemonisha – Finale (arr. Gagné) [4:49]



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