Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Pénélope: Prélude (1913) (Transcription pour orgue de Guillaume Le Dréau)* [7:31]
Claude DELVINCOURT (1888-1954)
Trois Pièces pour orgue (1911-1912) 21:10]*
Henri RABAUD (1873-1949)
La Procession nocturne (1897) (Transcription pour orgue de Guillaume Le Dréau)* [14:31]
Maurice EMMANUEL (1862-1938)
Andantino [4:43]*
Jean ROGER-DUCASSE (1873-1954)
Pastorale (1909) [11:25]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Marche nuptiale (1946) [6:32]
Guillaume Le Dréau (organ)
rec. 18-19 June 2016, La cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Rennes
*World premiere recordings

This is a fascinating collection of music by lesser-known French composers, who weren’t primarily associated with organ compositions. The programme is a well-thought-out one, as all the composers featured are roughly contemporary and, with the exception of Florent Schmitt, had links to the Paris Conservatory, either as teachers or directors. Schmitt’s directorship was at the conservatory in Lyon. Another common denominator is that all were either students or disciples of Gabriel Fauré. So there is an overwhelming sense of unity throughout.

Guillaume Le Dréau studied at both the Rennes and later the Paris conservatoires. He now teaches at the former. His time is divided between performing, composing, teaching and research. He is organist at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Rennes, a post held since 2015 and this, his debut album with Forgotten Records, is performed on its magnificent Merlin-Schütze organ (1867). Le Dréau’s compositional endeavours extend to transcriptions, of which two are included here, of pieces by Fauré and Rabaud. He has also contributed the excellent French/English booklet notes.

Fauré’s Pénélope: Prélude opens proceedings, in a glowing arrangement by the organist himself. The three Delvincourt pieces consist of a dreamy meditation, framed by two bold, declamatory statements. The opening March and Meditation are here receiving their first recorded outing. The only work in the recital that I’m familiar with is Henri Rabaud’s La Procession nocturne, which I know in the orchestral version. It’s a sprawling score, with echoes of Wagner. Le Dréau’s transcription shows ingenuity and invention in the imaginative registrations employed, and the work translates effectively to the organ. Maurice Emmanuel’s Andantino, here receiving its first recorded performance, is a subdued affair, delicate and intimate. It’s regrettable that Roger-Ducasse’s Pastorale was his only organ composition as it’s a terrific work, apparently rarely played in France. Inspired by the passacaglia form, it was dedicated to Nadia Boulanger. It begins simply enough with a siciliano theme, which the composer gradually develops. As it progresses it becomes increasingly more harmonically complex, until it reaches a thrilling climax. At the end everything dies away. What better way to end than with Florent Schmitt’s Marche nuptiale, Op. 108 of 1946. Its impressive fanfares herald a succession of contrasting sections, from hushed lyricism and procession-like grandeur to exuberant bombast. An attractive piece, it showcases the many glories of the Rennes instrument. Le Dréau gives an exhilarating rendition.

The inclusion of relatively unknown repertoire by lesser known composers is a compelling factor in recommending this delightful release. Le Dréau’s outstanding technique and sensitive ear for the many colours the instrument has to offer makes him a persuasive advocate of these alluring scores. The organ has been captured well in the recording process. It’s a release I cannot fault.

Stephen Greenbank