Vierne: Complete Organ Symphonies Vol. I
Classical - Instrumental
Organ symphonies Op. 14 & 20
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Louis Vierne's death, the present recording marks the beginning of audite's three-part complete recording of the composer's six Organ Symphonies with the organist Hans-Eberhard Roß. Recorded at the Goll organ of St. Martin in Memmingen, the recording is characterised by the warm, soft and widely mensurated sound of the organ. Its sound creates unobtrusive power and fullness, making a symphonic effect in the church interior of St. Martin and yet always remaining clear. The polyphonic structures of the works become distinct and the transparency of sound permits fresher tempi than usual - both of which cannot normally be taken for granted with recordings of Vierne.The French composer, organist and instrumental pedagogue Louis Victor Jules Vierne was extremely talented and ambitious, but nearly blind. His reaction to virtuoso organ playing, such as that of César Franck, was characterised by bliss and suffering, joy and fear. He studied in Paris with Charles-Marie Widor, who had founded the genre of the organ symphony.
In 1894 Vierne, at the age of only 23, was allowed to represent his teacher in two functions, so that a future full of hope lay before him: at the organ console of the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and in Widor's organ class at the Conservatory. But Vierne felt destined for higher things: in 1899 and 1903 he composed the first two (of a total of six) Organ Symphonies that were to lend the genre an unprecedented richness of timbres, mysticism and cyclic architecture. It is with these two works, written during comparatively happy years, that the three-part complete recording of the six Organ Symphonies of Louis Vierne, released by audite, begins. It will continue with the recording of Organ Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, which were written when their creator was established as organist of Notre-Dame - as well as Nos. 5 and 6, when Vierne enjoyed international successes whilst his life became increasingly tragic.
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Review by John Miller - December 10, 2012
It is hardly surprising that Louis Vierne (1870 – 1937) became the ultimate developer of the Organ Symphony. He was first taught by César Franck, the pioneer of the French Romantic organ style, and then by Charles-Marie Widor, developer of the Organ Symphony. Both of these teachers worked with the new breed of organs produced by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, with a newly responsive mechanism and a rich array of registrations powered by re-engineered wind systems. Together, all these features of a Cavaillé-Coll organ gave the ability to mimic a symphony orchestra, encouraging composers to take new directions.
Vierne, talented as he was, did not have an easy passage through his learning years. Born almost blind, and even after ophthalmic treatments with vision which was severely impaired, Vierne had to struggle with reading and writing music in Braille, not to mention having to deal with the numerous registration stops and three or more keyboards plus pedal board of the big organs. His six Organ Symphonies, however, attain the peak of development of this form, still presenting a great challenge for modern organists. The first two, first in a new complete series from Audite, were written during a happy period in his life, which culminated in his marriage. Following on from Widor, the Symphonies consist of a suite of movements, varied in tempo and style. Vierne's first, in D minor, has 6 movements: Prelude, Fugue, Pastorale, Allegro vivace (scherzo), Andante and Finale. This work fulfils his intention to pay homage to JS Bach in its Prelude and Fugue. The Second Symphony has only 5 movements, as do the rest of the symphonies.
There are several excellent and indispensable recordings of the complete symphonies played on Cavaillé-Coll organs which Vierne himself knew: Ben van Oosten (1997), Jeremy Filsell (2006) & Daniel Roth (2005-2009). Each, to some degree, could be called essential for enthusiasts, with recordings which range from very good to excellent (only Roth on Aeolus is in SA-CD format). Now along comes Hans-Eberhard Ross, hot-foot from his splendid Complete Organ Music of César Franck, which has been widely admired.
In an enlightening section of Audite's booklet entitled "Thoughts of the Intepreter", he makes a case for playing the Vierne Symphonies on organs other than Cavaillé-Colls in their vast cathedrals. Pointing out that the Symphonies are highly contrapuntal, he argues that the very reverberant locations of the big Cavaillé-Colls loose a lot of detail, particularly in the deep structures, and also they obscure Vierne's gripping rhythmic language. He chooses for his cycle a large modern organ, a Goll at St. Martin, Memmingen. It is equipped with all the required elements of a French Romantic organ, and also has an electronic system for programming complex registrations, which can be installed with the touch of a button. Ross's aim is to give the music the transparency it deserves, as well as its depth of field and rhythmic spirit, which are potentially lost or blurred in the cathedral recordings.
The Goll organ (1998) certainly has the noble fundamental stops, poetic flutes and characterful solo reeds, together with wide dynamics from the swell box and a truly powerful set of pleno reeds. The Goll is well matched with its 4sec reverberation and straightforward decay. Making comparisons of this disc with those of van Oosten and Roth, the clarity and rhythmic lift are well in evidence, as well as Ross's almost uniform increase in timing, often around 1 minute for most movements. This faster approach, thanks to the clearer and cleaner acoustic, gives a more radiantly coloured interpretation, in contrast to those of his rivals, whose playing of the Symphonies sometimes has been described as "emerging from Gothic Gloom".
A further interesting aspect of Ross's efforts involve revision of the symphony editions. As Ross explains, these have always been controversial, on account of the composer's poor vision affecting both his Braille writing and correction errors, not to mention the interpretation of uncertain his Braille text and its translation into standard notation. Ross uses a new edition (Louis Vierne: Complete Organ Works in 13 volumes, edited by Jon Laukvik and David Sanger), complemented by research from Prof Günther Kaumzinger, who recieved pointers from his teacher, Maurice Duruffle, friend and pupil of Vierne. Even so, as Ross remarks, he still had to struggle with issues raised in the Commentary of the new edition.
Ross includes some thought-provoking comments of his own about Vierne's sporadic and rather basic registration advice in the manuscripts. He indicates how these are specific to the Cavaillé-Colls which Vierne used, such as some couplings, which make no sense on the Gull. Removal of these does indeed seem to increase the transparency and rhythmic flow of the lower voices. All in all, to my ears, Ross's interpretations have revealed as much of the first two Vierne symphonies as the removal of dark varnish from a painting. I look forward to the other instalments in this cycle with great anticipation.
Organ specialists and Vierne fans will no doubt wish to keep their Roth and Van Oosten cycles (they may be hard to get anyway), so for beginners, Ross is an excellent choice. The Audite recording is beautifully balanced, especially in multichannel, portraying both the stunning power and majesty of the full Goll organ, as well as its intimate and charming solos. With the new edition and considerable thought about his approach, Hans-Eberhard Ross seems to me to have the measure of these Organ Symphonies. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net