Edwin LEMARE (1866-1934)
Organ Works - Volume 3

Marche Moderne, Op.2 [7:28]
Allegretto [7:12]
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Op.98 [8:41]
Variations Sérieuses, Op.96 [6:51]
Toccata di concerto, Op.59 [8:07]
Irish Air from County Derry [3:27]
Grand Cortège (Finale), Op.67 [5:19]
Lars Rosenlund Nørremark (Frobenius Organ of Aarhus Cathedral)
rec. Aarhus Cathedral 12-13 July, 6 December 2015
CDKLASSISK CDK1163 [48:03]

How are the mighty fallen! A century ago Edwin Lemare was pretty much a household name; one of the most famous organists of the age on both sides of both the Atlantic and Pacific, and someone whose live concerts regularly attracted audiences numbering in their thousands. He is reputed to have played to the largest ever live audience for an organ concert and to have earned more money than any other before the age of recording and mass media. He also penned a phenomenally popular song – “Moonlight and Roses” was derived from his organ Andantino in D flat.

Who recognises the name of Lemare now? The answer is a small clique of (mostly) English and technically advanced organists, who enjoy the somewhat dated feel of his music, its fondness for easily-memorable tunes and its surfeit of delightful effect, and who relish the opportunities it offers for virtuoso display in music, which puts very little pressure on artistic intellect. Otherwise Lemare’s reputation has plunged into the morass of obscurity, leaving behind a faint memory of a musical era which most look upon today with a mixture of mild amusement and even milder distaste.

It seems curiously appropriate that Lars Rosenlund Nørremark claims in his biography that he had ambitions to become a palaeontologist/dinosaur-hunter before turning to the organ. There are those that would say that digging down to root out the music of Lemare is the musical equivalent of excavating fossils of an old and extinct dinosaur. Certainly he seems to have taken the task to heart, and this is the third and final of a series of discs, which he has devoted to unearthing Lemare. I missed the first two, but it has certainly been a labour of love, and one which has borne the most splendidly fruitful results.

Perhaps Lemare’s music seems an odd choice for a young Danish organist, yet these performances have a level of intensity and seriousness of purpose, which more than supports the deep thought and profound consideration he has expressed in his very extensive booklet essays; summed up in the statement that his recordings have “recounted a story about a unique musician, great music and a living culture which does not otherwise occupy much space in bulky history books”.

Nørremark’s performances of all eight pieces on the disc are shot through with a mixture of deep affection, musical sincerity and profound understanding, and show a keen awareness of Lemare’s own playing style as revealed in extant organ-rolls cut by Lemare in 1913. He has all the virtuosity needed to polish off the dazzling passages of technical bravura, notably in the Toccata di Concerto of 1909, and the gift for registration, which can bring to life the characteristic leaps from serious to light-hearted that figure so much in the splendid Marche Moderne of 1884 (the earliest piece on the disc). He has the grasp of structure and form needed to draw out from the Toccata and Fugue in D minor Lemare’s impressive level of compositional organisation, and the flair to give vent to the improvisatory gestures of the Grand Cortège (Finale) of 1910.

The Frobenius organ of Aarhus Cathedral is a good choice of instrument, well equipped with all the colours and sounds Lemare sends its way, but particularly effective in its quieter registers, where some of Lemare’s most endearing creations find their voice. This lovely organ sound, coupled with the sensitivity of Nørremark’s playing, effectively sidesteps any hints of sentimentality in the Irish Air, which was one of his last works, written in 1927, by which time his career and reputation had already begun their decline. As the Musical Times stated in its obituary of Lemare, published in 1934, “His death will no doubt draw attention to a number of admirable organ works that ought never to have dropped out of the repertory”. Sadly, it did not. Perhaps Lars Rosenlund Nørremark will have more success as a result of this excellent and perceptive recording project (reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2).

Marc Rochester