GMCD 7278 – Organ Music by Dupré, Langlais, Massiaen, Ropartz, Vierne & Litaize with Colin Walsh

Colin Walsh at the Organ of Lincoln Cathedral

To the CD in our Shop

Organists’ Review February 2005

Langlais Suite Brève; Incantation pour un jour Saint; Evocation; Messiaen Offrande au Saint Sacrament; Litaize Scherzo; Lied; Epiphanie; Ropartz Prélude Funèbre; Vierne Trois improvisations; Dupre Evocation

My experience of the Lincoln organ has been primarily from the console and not as a listener and I have always felt it a litt1e diluted from that position -even without the ‘greenhouse’. I was delighted to hear this recording which captures the organ as I have never heard it; speaking to the building with the full beauty of all of its voices, and there is much beauty there.

The playing is particularly vital, idiosyncratic (in a good way) and, apart from the generally refined sound of the organ, which lacks the cragginess of its French counterparts (strings too smooth, orchestral reeds too ‘pleasant’ and well- blended chorus work) the sound-world is quite authentic. (perhaps with the widening of Europe we may see organs losing more of their national f1avour, a little like current worldwide trends in wine?)

Walsh studied with Langlais for three years, which led him to specialise in this repertoire and the Langlais on this disc can probably be regarded as an ideal reference. I was delighted to hear the three Litaize compositions; good to have them available -Lied is particularly lovely. This must be the second recording of this recently discovered Messiaen and the Dupre Evocation which ends the disc is a tour de force of Frenchness from an English organ (not forgetting Father Willis’ French studies), and a stunning way to end the disc.

I liked David Gammie’s richly informative notes. The English and German booklet contains all the usual information -some photographs would have been welcome.

American Record Guide – January/February 2005

Walsh, the often recorded Organist Laureate at Lincoln Cathedral, performs this program on the 4-70 Willis-Harrison (1898/1998) there. The selections were apparently chosen to trace French organ music from the late 1890s to the 1960s. If the aim was to supply such a panorama, one would get the impression that it was a somber period of time. Most of the literature is familiar to most organists. Walsh plays everything with assurance and good control. His tempos tend toward the slower side. The making is somewhat remote, so there is little brightness. Further, as this organ has few mixtures, Langlais’s ‘Dialogue’ has little bite to it. ‘Evocation’ (Homage to Rameau) is the longest track, and the instrument sounds the best on this piece. Incantation is heard at a slower pace than usual (compare Walsh’s 7:52 with Fejko’s 5:28 (Arkay 6104) or Hakim’s 6:02 (Motette 11171).

The Lincoln Pedal division is substantial, often dominating the sonority. The biggest surprise is the Messiaen, a very early piece discovered by his widow and published in 2001. Quite the opposite of the style we have come to know, this piece smacks a bit of Le Banquet Celeste. Smooth chromatic upper lines ascend and descend over gently moving string harmonies. A haunting piece.

It is good to see the work of Litaize (1909-91) on the program. His music often has jazzy rhythms. One hears a much more conservative approach on these selections – a breezy Scherzo, a plaintive Lied (perhaps his best known piece), and an ebullient ‘Epiphanie’. If you enjoy his music, try a whole disc of it with Bouchard (REM311128).

The Vierne pieces are nicely performed and seem made for an instrument like this. The concluding ‘Evocation’ by Dupré, after all its snarling and bitterness, finishes with a tutti C-major chord. But even that triumphant ending can’t displace the dark mood that prevails. For this piece, try Toren (Proprius 9003- Sept/Oct 1998) or Castagnet (Sony 57485).                                                         METZ

MusicWeb Friday October 01 04

A most desirable disc. One of the finest organ recitals that I have heard recently. …
To a certain extent, Ropartz is the ‘Odd Man Out’ in this superb and generously filled selection of French organ music. Of course, he and Vierne were disciples of Franck, whereas the other composers are related to each other in one way or another. Vierne was Dupré’s mentor and Dupré was the teacher of Messiaen, Langlais and Litaize. Moreover the three younger composers were exact contemporaries and died within the space of a few months in 1991-1992.

Ropartz’s Prélude Funèbre, composed at the turn of the century, is much indebted to Franck’s chromatic writing, but is nevertheless an impressive and moving piece in its own right. Its current neglect is hard to understand.

Vierne, for all his indebtedness to tradition, was one of the first organists to commit his interpretations to disc. This happened in 1928 when he recorded some pieces by Bach as well as the Improvisations heard here and later transcribed into written notation by Duruflé. This was fortunate for these fine works would have been irretrievably lost, were if not for Duruflé’s dedicated and painstaking efforts. “Oh, well, some pompous republican marches will do!”. These beautiful improvisations are actually much more than that, of course; for if the outer pieces fit that ‘cap’ (although pomposity is totally absent), the central Meditation is a real little gem.

Messiaen’s early Offrande au Saint Sacrement was found among his papers after his death. It is obviously an early work, composed in the early 1930s, at the outset of Messiaen’s career. It already sounds clearly ‘Messiaen-ish’ enough to justify its inclusion in any complete recording of his organ music (as in Olivier Latry’s recent recording).

The three pieces by Langlais are beautifully done. I enjoyed the marvellous Suite Brève, short in terms of playing time but packed with invention. His impressive Evocation, actually the fourth movement of his Hommage à Rameau of 1964 and the longest single item here, makes me eager to hear that major work complete. I do hope that Colin Walsh will consider it for an all-Langlais disc some day. This is a piece of substance, highly virtuosic and of great expressive strength as is the somewhat more straightforward Incantation pour un jour Saint.

I had never heard a note of Litaize, although I knew him quite well as a distinguished organist. Of the three short pieces heard here, I particularly enjoyed the nimble-footed Scherzo of 1932 and the appealing Lied of 1934 with its echoes of Ravel’s Mother Goose – a particularly touching piece.

Dupré is represented here by the third movement Allegro deciso from his triptych Evocation Op.37 composed in 1941 in memory of his father. This is actually the second recording of it that I have been able to review here – the other one is on Lammas LAMM 164D Sounds French. It made me really willing to hear the complete triptych which is available on Naxos 8.554211. This rousing piece, a ‘Song of Resistance’ if ever there was one, provides for an uplifting conclusion to this magnificent release superbly played by Colin Walsh on the glorious organ of Lincoln Cathedral and magnificently recorded. A most desirable disc. One of the finest organ recitals that I have heard recently.
Hubert Culot

MusicWeb Wednesday May 26 04

The recording of the organ of Lincoln Cathedral is of the highest quality and Guild are to be congratulated on a release that is hard to fault …

Guild records have released an exceptionally fine recording of French organ music which embraces three generations of composers. This spans a period of some seventy years, ranging mainly from the late-romanticism of the early 1900s to the very different sound-world of the 1960s.

Guy Ropartz and Louis Vierne, were both pupils of César Franck. Marcel Dupré was a protégé of Vierne. Jean Langlais, Gaston Litaize and Olivier Messiaen were pupils of Dupré and all three entered Dupré’s Organ Class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1927. As fate would have it, they all died within the space of a few months, in 1991-92. By this time Messiaen had achieved word-wide recognition and Langlais was gaining acclaim as the successor of Franck and Tournemire at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde.

Langlais and Litaize were both blind (as was Vierne) and they both benefited from the inspiring musical education provided by the Institut des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris. After his studies with Dupré, Langlais joined the Composition Class of Paul Dukas, who told him that he was “a born composer.”

The Suite Brève (1947) was one of the first works which Langlais published as Organiste du Grande Orgue de la Basilique Ste Clotilde, soon after his appointment late in 1945. The freshness and individuality of the music won many friends in France and America but provoked a more negative reaction from conservative British church circles. Langlais’s chant-based Incantation pour un jour Saint (1949) was inspired by the ancient liturgy of the Easter Vigil, which marks the first celebration of the resurrection of Christ during the night preceding Easter Sunday.

Olivier Messiaen was a complex and original thinker who frequently ventured into foreign and often exotic worlds of musical expression, far removed from those in which his contemporaries moved. The manuscript of Messiaen’s Offrande au Saint Sacrement was discovered among his papers by his widow after his death. This piece, which is thought to be an early work, was published as recently as 2001.

Gaston Litaize has never acquired a worldwide reputation on quite the same scale as Messiaen or Langlais, but he was a distinguished teacher and a great performing artist with an encyclopaedic repertoire. Two of his works in this programme are concert pieces, taken from a set of Douze Pièces composed at various times during the 1930s, and published in 1939. The feather-light Scherzo (1932) is a worthy successor to the French tradition of concert scherzos established in the 19th century by Gigout and Widor, and then developed by Louis Vierne and Maurice Duruflé. The Lied of (1934) is a deeply-felt and beautifully-proportioned song-without-words.

Langlais’s spectacular Evocation was composed in 1964 as part of a suite entitled Homage to Rameau, which was commissioned by the French Minister of Fine Arts in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the death of Rameau. Incidentally, the initial letters of the titles of the six movements form an acrostic which spells out Rameau’s name. Langlais gives no clue as to exactly what is being evoked in this piece, but it is undeniably one of his most successful and spectacular concert works.

The music of Guy Ropartz comes from a very different world. After his studies with Massenet and Franck, Ropartz left Paris and spent the whole of his long life fostering the musical life of provincial France. He was Director of the Conservatories at Nancy and then at Strasbourg. Ropartz was the only one of these six composers here who was not a professional organist. His organ music forms just a small part of his prolific output as a composer. His elegiac Prélude funèbre (1896) is a memorable essay in the post-Franck style, the poignant melody and intricate accompaniment recalling the introspective intensity of Franck’s own Prière.

Louis Vierne was the great romantic among the French organist/composers of his generation. Vierne was blind and was Organist of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame for nearly forty years. He died there on the organ-bench during a recital in 1937. At a 1928 recording session at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Vierne performed works of J.S. Bach and also set down Three Improvisations which Maurice Duruflé was to later transcribe into written notation.

Marcel Dupré forms the link between the generations in this programme. Ambitious and single-minded in the pursuit of his artistic ideals, Dupré was a remarkable character; as Professor at the Paris Conservatoire, organist of Saint-Sulpice, tireless international concert artist, and prolific composer, he dominated the French organ world of his time. Described as a symphonic poem, Evocation was written in memory of his father. Composed in 1944 in occupied France in the middle of the second world war, at a time of deep personal sorrow, this music mixes nostalgia, anger and defiance into a potent brew.

British organist Colin Walsh has given numerous recitals in many countries throughout the world and is steadily building an excellent reputation for himself. Walsh who has studied with Simon Preston and the composer/organist Jean Langlais has met Olivier Messiaen and is a celebrated interpreter of 20th century French repertoire.

This is an outstanding recital and the soloist is a splendid advocate for these twentieth century French works. The more substantial scores such as Langlais’s Suite Brève and Evocation are performed with tremendous conviction, substantial authority and convey a most compelling atmosphere. Shorter works such as Litaize’s Scherzo, Lied and Epiphanie are played with total sureness and with real depth in what is a most successful and well planned recital. I must single out Vierne’s Three Improvisations for special praise where the soloist’s empathy with the score is breathtaking and emotionally compelling.

The recording of the 1898 ‘Father Willis’ organ of Lincoln Cathedral is of the highest quality and Guild are to be congratulated on a release that is hard to fault.
Michael Cookson