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European Organ Music
Colin Walsh (organ)
rec. 2019, Lincoln Cathedral, UK PRIORY PRCD1223 [77:55]
Colin Walsh and the Lincoln Cathedral “Father” Willis; an irresistible combination! We might add to that the stupendous sound of Neil Collier’s recording, which gives us the organ, no holds barred, and a goodly helping of the acoustic to add spice to what is already a wonderfully flavoursome recital of music by late 19th/early 20th century Italian, Belgian and French composers.
We begin with Marco Enrico Bossi. The grandiose Entrée Pontificale gives us a great blast of the organ in all its glory, while both the popular Scherzo in G minor and rather less-well-known Divertimento in forma di Giga flit over the stops with delightful airiness and along the way provide a tantalising glimpse of the acoustic depth as small figures disappear into the misty recesses of the west end. Walsh’s own stunning virtuosity is much to the fore in that wonderful showpiece for the feet (with a few things for the hands thrown in for good measure as well as a magnificent opening blast of Solo Tubas), the Etude Symphonique.
The programme then moves north to Belgium, and also into a softer, gentler and more atmospheric gear, with Joseph Jongen’s Cantabile, Choral and Petit Prélude serving up a much needed period of restraint and reflection after the commanding manoeuvres of Bossi. It is a moment to savour some of the more delicate stops on the Lincoln organ, an instrument dating back to 1898 and representative of “Father” Willis at his very best. Again the recording captures the qualities of these softer sounds superbly. The booklet notes suggest the Toccata in D flat was inspired by the final toccata of Dupré’s Op.20 Variations, which seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination to me. Whatever inspired it, Jongen provided the player with a hefty bout of exercise for alternating hands (with a few things for the feet thrown in for good measure) which clearly does not faze Walsh in this glittering account. Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variation needs no introduction, and while there are recordings around which might exude more of a French flavour, few have such a strong feeling of coherence as Walsh lets the music flow easily and with none of the obstructive sentimentality from which so many performances seem to suffer.
Music by four very familiar French composers closes the programme. But in the case of Duruflé, Dupré and Mulet, the choice of music is perhaps not what one might expect. Instead of any of the big works, Walsh gives us two smaller pieces by Maurice Duruflé, the Méditation which remained unpublished (and unknown) until 2002, and the Carillon (which John Henderson in his mammoth Directory of Composers of the Organ rather dismisses as being “not in the same class” as his other organ works). Surprising choices they may be, but they are good ones in this context, for while the former, with its strong reminiscence of the music of Jehan Alain, provides a moment of pure atmospheric mysteriousness, again giving ample opportunity for Walsh to travel across the range of the Lincoln organ’s softer registers and solo stops, the latter inhabits what we might describe as the middle range of the organ, giving us a lovely taste of Willis’s characteristically silvery Diapasons. Marcel Dupré is represented with his Cortège et Litanie which is a tremendous piece to demonstrate not only the full dynamic range of the organ, but of the recording itself; which lacks for nothing in vividness as it travels from the distant opening to the triumphant conclusion. And while we might reasonably expect to hear on a disc such as this the Carillon-Sortie or even Tu es Petrus, instead Henri Mulet is represented by his elusive and highly atmospheric musical portrayal of stained glass windows, Rosace, marred only by the microphones picking up a rather hefty bit of stop action noise.
Jean Langlais wrote a great deal of organ music – some might even suggest he wrote too much for the scope of his own musical imagination – but a firm fixture in the repertory almost since its composition in the mid-1930s has been the third of his Paraphrases Grégoriennes, which is a highly celebratory work based around the Te Deum. It provides a fitting climax and conclusion to a disc of truly stupendous organ music, organ playing and organ sound.
Contents Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925)
Entrée Pontificale [3:55]
Scherzo in G minor [7:16]
Divertimento in forma di Giga [3:05]
Etude Symphonique [5:55] Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
Cantabile, Op.37 No.1 [6:48]
Choral, Op.37 No.4 [4:22]
Petit Prélude [3:05]
Toccata in D flat, Op.104 [5:37] César Franck (1822-1890)
Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op.18 [10:57] Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
Fugue sur le Carillon des Heures de la Cathedrale de Soissons [3:34] Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Cortège et Litanie [6:47] Henri Mulet (1878-1967)
Rosace [5:46] Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Hymne d’action de grace ‘Te Deum’ [4:53]