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Widor organ symphonies SOCD396

Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
Organ Symphony No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42 No. 1 (1879)
Organ Symphony No. 6 in G minor, Op. 42 No. 2 (1879)
Pierre Labric (organ)
rec. 1971, Le grand orgue de Saint-Ouen de Rouen, France

Testimony to Sostice's tireless championing of the French organist Pierre Labric's discographical legacy can be found by browsing their website. Several of the issues have been enthusiastically reviewed by myself and my colleagues on Musicweb (review ~ review ~ review ~ review).  In June Labric celebrated his one hundred and first birthday, and this latest release of two Widor Symphonies pays worthy and eloquent tribute to that significant milestone.

It's astonishing that the organist's rich discography is confined to a very brief period of some five years (1969-1974).  Labric recorded Widor's ten organ symphonies on the great Cavaille-Coll Organ of Saint Ouen de Rouen in 1971. They were released on an eleven LP set in the United States by the Musical Heritage Society. They were popular and quickly sold out, and subsequently became the object of pirate transfers. Apparently, the pressings of this American edition were only mediocre. Solstice managed to obtain from a doctor via auction a set of tapes, which are the basis of this new incarnation. The label has decided to release Symphonies 5 and 6, both composed in 1879. I assume that the other symphonies will follow in due course.

Widor’s 5th and 6th Symphonies were written and published in 1879. In them the composer addressed the innovations in organ design in terms of colour and dynamic range. So, there are some imaginative sonorities in addition to their melodic largesse. Both are cast in five movements. No. 5 opens with an outgoing and spirited Allegro vivace. It’s basically a set of variations on a theme in F minor. In contrast the second movement evokes bucolic loveliness, realised in some radiant pastel shades by Labric’s imaginative registration choices. The fourth movement is a reverential Adagio, which precedes the famous Toccata, the composer’s most famous creation, delivered with style, panache and polish.

No. 6 has an impressive fanfare-like opening movement, and this is probably why Solstice have positioned it first on the CD. Labric doesn’t rush things, but paces the movement well. His choice of registration for the second movement Adagio confers a consoling element. The Intermezzo which follows is fleet and playful. A lyrical Cantabile makes way for a stirring finale, in which the full power of the Saint-Ouen instrument is showcased to perfection.

Whatever the mediocre quality of the Musical Heritage Society LPs, there are no such issues here. Solstice’s source material has yielded very positive results indeed, and the organ emerges richly resplendent. The accompanying booklet, in French and English, is informative, and decked with some fascinating photos. Organ specifications are provided.

Stephen Greenbank

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