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
Pdf booklet included ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22704 [70:45]
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,
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
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 TheSeasons
is pleasing, if a little soupy; by contrast Gagné’s forensic arrangement
of Edward MacDowell’s AD1620, from his Sea
Pieces of 1898, sounds much more forensic. There’s more Americana,
with rhythmically alert performances of Sousa’s Stars and
StripesForever – 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.
Track-list 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) Shylock
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]