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Fernand de LA TOMBELLE (1854-1928)
Organ Works 1
Pièces d’orgue Op 23 (1888) [108:36]
Les Vêpres du Commun des Saints, 7th série: Vêpres d’un Confesseur Pontife (1899) [10:50]
Toccata in F minor (1911) [4:04]
Offertoire ou Sortie (1917) [2:50]
Méditation (1911) [3:46]
Offertoire (1922) [5:05]
Marche Nuptiale (1885) [6:41]
Stanisław Maryjewski (organ)
Rec. 2020, Organ of Cathedral of St. John Evangelist and St. John Baptist of Lublin, Poland
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0484-85 [73:32 + 67:06]

Quite recently I reviewed a French song recital with Veronique Gens (review), and there I encountered for the first time the name Fernand de La Tombelle. Due to other urgent assignments I never got the time to review the Gens disc before my next bunch of discs arrived. On top of that was the present release  with some of La Tombelle’s organ works and, having enjoyed a little piece titled Orientale, I looked forward to hearing more by him. A closer look at his background revealed that he had musical ancestery through his mother who had studied with Thalberg and Liszt. In his early teens he discovered the organ and decided to become an organist. He studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Théodore Dubois, both important composers. La Tombelle had a career as piano and organ virtuoso all over France and besides organ works he composed in almost all genres. Apart from his musical activities he was interested in folklore, sculpting, poetry (his wife was a well-known writer under the pseudonym Camille Bruno), painting, cycling, cuisine, astronomy and archaeology – it’s a wonder he got time for composing as well! The selections presented here span almost 40 years of his creative life and are all world premiere recordings. All the pieces, bar one, are dedicated to organist friends; besides Guilmant and Dubois, also César Franck and the concluding Marche Nuptiale is dedicated to Ambroise Thomas and his wife. Thomas is still known for his operas Mignon and Hamlet. Most of the space on these two discs is occupied by the six notebooks Pièces d’orgue, Op 23 from 1888. This also, by and large, is where La Tombelle is at his most inspired. There are some delicate pieces in what I would call aquarelle colours: mild and transparent with flute voices and, as in Écho, Vox Humana. In notebook 2, the Magnificat en Sol is again mild and soft but the concluding fugue is strong-limbed and jubilant and the Marche de Procession that follows is also jubilant and ends with a thunderous crescendo. This is what I call goose-pimple music – and the sound of the Homan & Jezierski organ of the Cathedral of St. John Evangelist and St. John Baptist in Lublin, Poland, is certainly full-throated!

The Allegretto Cantando of notebook 3 is also dominated by mild flute voices while the opening of the rhythmic Carillon is repetitive but stimulating. The remainder of the piece is rather discreet until another repetitive portion blows some life into the composition, but then it ends in a subdued mood.

Notebook 4 contains La Tombelle’s first Sonata in E minor. It was dedicated to Eugène Gigout, another of his fellow organists. The Sonata is in three movements. The opening Allegro is long and builds up to a triumphant fortissimo that really puts the instrument to the test. The Andante is an atmospheric pastoral with a beautiful Vox coelestis in the middle, while the concluding Toccata is riveting, something to set beside Widor’s famous showpiece. I think this sonata is the high point on this album.

On CD 2 we find notebook 5 which is dedicated to César Franck and opens with a quite infectious Prélude with fluent finger-work. The Fugue which follows is solemn and the Canzonetta is downright dull. In notebook 6 the first two movements are fantasies on old Christmas songs, while the third is a majestic Marche Pontificale.

The fillers are of variable interest. Vêpres d’un Confesseur Pontife consists of eight short pieces “intended for the remembrance of the Saints of the Lord. Each of them is presented with different registration. The Toccata in F minor from 1911 was intended for harmonium and so is Offertoire au Sortie from 1917. It is a delicate little piece. The beautiful and intimate Meditation is a companion piece to the Toccata, and Offertoire from 1922 is also meditative. This is the latest of the compositions on this set, while the Marche Nuptiale from 1885 is one of La Tombelle’s earliest works for organ. It is a refreshing conclusion to this recital.

Stanisław Maryjewski, who also wrote the liner notes, plays with expertise, the organ is a superb instrument and the recording excellent. While I didn’t find all the music to my liking I still think it was worth getting acquainted with it and I’m sure I will return to some of the works in time – in particular the Toccata from the first Sonata.

It could be added that there are a few recordings of other works by Fernand de La Tombelle available, both chamber music, songs and some orchestral and choral music as well.

Göran Forsling

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