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Hyperion Records

CDA67458 - Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10
Bastille Day at Lorient (1892) by Henry Moret (1856-1913)
Galerie L'Ergasterre, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: June 2003
Concert Hall of the Francis Winspear Centre, Edmonton, Canada
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Ron Yachimec
Release date: January 2004
Total duration: 72 minutes 42 seconds

'Herrick portrays it as a persuasive, powerful and utterly compelling entity in which every note holds the listener in thrall, while this huge 96-stop Canadian organ has more colour than even Liszt, in his wildest dreams, could ever have imagined' (Gramophone)

'He brings enthusiasm and boundless energy to whatever repertoire he tackles. Apt registrations, dexterous clarity, and phrase-making metrical verve inform his performances … The sound on this release is excellent' (Fanfare, USA)

'…other recitalists please follow suit!' (The Organ)

Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10
Part 1: Fantasy  [9'23]
Part 3: Fugue  [10'14]

Christopher Herrick’s ongoing tour of the world’s greatest organs gives rise here to a truly glorious disc from Canada. The 96-stop, 6,551-pipe 2002 Letourneau organ of The Winspear Centre, Edmonton, Canada—a veritable beast of an instrument, described by Herrick as ‘terrific … fantastic … a very fine instrument’—produces a sound which is, in every sense, awesome. Hyperion’s engineers have captured the pyrotechnics in all their devastating glory.

The programme is varied, starting with an unashamedly jazzy Blues-Toccata and Behnke’s version of the South African ‘freedom song’ We are marching in the light of God, progressing through works by Mulet, Johnson, Duruflé and Bonnet, to movements from Iain Farrington’s Fiesta!, written for Herrick’s sixtieth birthday celebrations last year. Crowning proceedings is Liszt’s epic Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, a half-hour extemporization on Meyerbeer’s theme and one of those organ works which finally won for the instrument a place of its own in the musical firmament, finally emancipated from the church loft and taking centre-stage on the concert platform.

For John Rutter’s Variations on an Easter Theme, Herrick is joined by the Canadian organist Jeremy Spurgeon, here making his debut on Hyperion.

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Based in Stavanger, Norway, Mons Leidvin Takle (born 1942) is an organist-composer who studied in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Chicago and New York. His jazz-inspired Blues-Toccata is based almost entirely on the material heard in the first four bars, i.e., the brilliant semiquavers in the right hand, and the punchy, rhythmic chords (mostly sevenths and ninths) given to the left hand and pedals. Particularly ‘bluesy’ is the way in which the right-hand figuration alternates between minor and major, and, in much the same way that the members of a jazz ensemble have their ‘breaks’, here the pedals get an occasional share of the semiquavers, as does the left hand; but the brilliant right-hand part steals the show. The animation steadily increases, the pedals have a brief cadenza, and the end is a riot, with dominant sevenths in F major and G major simultaneously sustained over a pedal octave C.

Siyahamba, which is subtitled ‘We are marching in the light of God’ and based on a South African freedom song, is the first of the Three Global Songs of John A Behnke (born 1953), a professor at Concordia University in Wisconsin, USA. The repeated and sometimes syncopated chords which are heard at the outset introduce ‘Stanza One’, a jaunty first statement of the theme. An ‘Interlude’ then leads to a robust further statement, in which the pedals are heard for the first time and the theme is nobly declaimed on a trumpet stop. At the second ‘Interlude’, the music abruptly switches from the solidity of G major to the sparkle of the remote key of A major, and a passage similar to that heard initially introduces the final ‘Stanza’, which is marked fortissimo and A bit slower, more majestic. The repeated chords’ return make one think that the music is dancing into the dim distance, but the composer surprises us.

Henri Mulet (1878–1967) was Organist at St-Roch, Paris, and Professor of Organ at l’École Niedermeyer. He was one of the more enigmatic figures of French organ music, so much so that his collection Esquisses Byzantines, published in 1920, gives no information about any appointment held by him and instead of bearing a dedication to a fellow musician is inscribed: ‘En mémoire de la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre 1914–1919’. Tu es petra et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus te (‘You are the rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you’) is the tenth and final piece in this collection, the title itself being a corruption of the Vulgate version of the words of Christ to St Peter in St Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, verse 18. Mulet described the piece, in its separately published form, as carillon, but it is more helpful to think of it as a fairly typical example of a French organ toccata, with scintillating figuration on the manuals accompanying sinister-sounding motifs given out by the pedals. The final pages are among the most exciting in the organist’s repertoire.

John Rutter (born 1945) is a former Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge. His fame as a composer and arranger of Christmas carols has tended to obscure his other works, and it is perhaps not generally known that he has written several works for the organ, including Toccata in Seven, God rest you merry, gentlemen, and the present piece, a relatively rare example of an organ duet, Variations on an Easter theme. The theme, ‘O Filii et Filiae’, is a traditional melody and was probably written at the same time as the text, which is by Jean Tisserau, a Franciscan friar who died in 1494. The first verse conveys the spirit of the whole text:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
O sons and daughters, let us sing!
The King of Heaven, the glorious king,
O’er death today rose triumphing.

The variations are as follows:

4: Majestic theme on solo trumpet
5: A little slower theme on pedal reeds
6: Slow theme in high register, on solo stop; quasi-ostinato pedal
7: Fast and rhythmic theme in diminution
8: Slow and expressive B flat minor; theme varied, on solo stops
9: Fast — theme on trumpet, below toccata-like figuration
Broad and majestic — reeds
Fast theme on solo tuba

The work was given its first performance, by Ray and Beth Chenault (to whom it is dedicated), on 31 July 1983, at Washington National Cathedral, USA. Rutter’s title suggests something a little ‘churchy’, yet the music has much in common with the other works in this programme, especially the toccata-like figuration of the faster variations and the ‘bluesy’ harmony of the slow ones.

Composers of organ music have tended to highlight the instrument’s more colourful stops, and the trumpet has naturally enough been much favoured ever since the Basse de Trompette movements of French organ masses and those movements from the voluntaries of John Stanley and his contemporaries that make a feature of it. By the twentieth century, the mildly voiced trumpets of the eighteenth-century organ had to a large extent been brushed aside by heavy-pressure examples, and Norman Cocker and C S Lang were among those British organist-composers who wrote ‘tuba tunes’ – that is, movements exploiting the commanding sonority of the most powerful voice in the organ’s family of trumpets. David N Johnson (1922–1988), an American composer who wrote prolifically for the organ, is nowadays best remembered for his own contributions to this repertoire, of which the present work, Trumpet Tune in G, is a fine example. The swagger and stateliness of this music, its framework of eight-bar phrases, and the occasional ornament all owe something to the ceremonial music of the Baroque period, which was obviously Johnson’s starting point; but the added-note harmony proclaims immediately the hand of a twentieth-century composer. In this recording, a cornet registration is used for the C major central section, making the re-introduction of the fine trumpet stop all the more telling.

Like Mulet, Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986) was a Parisian organist, presiding at St-Etienne-du-Mont from 1930 until his death. Born at Louviers, near Paris, his training began at Rouen Cathedral and continued at the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied composition with Paul Dukas, to whom he dedicated his Suite, Op 5, which dates from around 1934. The Toccata, the third and final movement of the Suite, stands apart from the rest of the work and indeed from the rest of Duruflé’s small but immensely distinguished output. There is nothing here either of the sombre beauty of the Prélude, the first movement, or of the exalted tranquillity of the lovely Sicilienne, the second; and although it has a certain amount in common with Mulet’s Tu es petra, it explores to a much greater extent not only the resources of a large organ but also the tonal, textural and harmonic resources of music. In fact, it has more to do with the pianism of Ravel and Debussy than with the traditions of the French organ-loft, for there is no trace of Gregorian chant or Bachian polyphony in this terrifying cascade of virtuoso figuration. At various points the fury subsides a little, but the work as a whole is, for all its brilliance, dark and disturbing, and one wonders whether Duruflé’s eventual refusal to play or record it reflected origins in some deeply troubling personal experience.

Joseph Bonnet (1884–1944) is the third Parisian organist in this programme. Born in Bordeaux, he entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1901 and gained the Premier Prix for organ and improvisation in 1906, in which year he was appointed Organist of St-Eustache and of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. He was, also, a much-travelled recitalist, abandoning the organ-loft in order to undertake recital tours. The present work, Matin Provençal, is the second of his Poèmes d’Automne, Op 3, a collection dating from around 1908. At the outset, flutes’ gentle figuration suggests the play of light upon water, and a modal melody, played on the oboe and based on the flute music, sets the rural scene. The oboe tune is developed, much use being made of the repeated notes in its first bar; chromatic notes invade the modal calm; the music becomes increasingly animated; and, as the sun rises to its zenith, the resources of the organ are gradually brought into play. The oboe tune is heard, Maestoso, on full organ, and Bonnet’s magical evocation concludes with the transformation of the flutes’ opening notes into a toccata suggestive of morning ending in a fiery blaze of noon.

Educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he was Organ Scholar, Iain Farrington (born 1977) is among the leading organist-composers of his generation. Celebration and Stride Dance are respectively the first and third numbers of Fiesta!, a seven-movement suite for organ. Celebration, written in 2002 to mark Christopher Herrick’s sixtieth birthday, is a lively, toccata-like work drawing inspiration from the modern French school of organ composition and displaying a dazzling rhythmic style and a remarkably rich harmonic palette. The key of C major, which is suggested at various points, is thrillingly confirmed by the final pedal notes and the added-sixth chord which brings the work to its close. Whoever is dancing in Stride Dance is a sinister, feral creature slinking about in the gloomy shadows of F minor. The right hand’s syncopated chords are the chief protagonist here, the pedals and left hand providing a hesitant, off-beat accompaniment. The music increases in confidence and intensity, the opening F minor figure appearing in a number of major-key guises; but with that key the work disturbingly ends, the final sound comprising the basic ingredients of a tonic chord but with the sharpened fourth, sixth and seventh degrees added for good measure.

Thus far, this tenth volume of Organ Fireworks has concentrated on music in the twentieth and present centuries and in particular on toccatas and on jazz-inspired works. Christopher Herrick concludes with a work written in the nineteenth century and which he considers the finest post-Bach contribution to the literature of the organ. In the 1850s, inspired by the interest in J S Bach that was so much a feature of music in nineteenth-century Europe, Franz Liszt (1811–1886) wrote a number of large-scale organ works, including one based on the very letters of Bach’s name, the Prelude and Fugue on BACH of 1855. The Fantasia and Fugue on the choral ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ dates from 1850, the centenary of Bach’s death. The title suggests a two-movement work such as Bach himself might have written, but this is really a vast, half-hour extemporisation on ‘Ad nos’, which is not a traditional chorale melody but one taken from the opera Le Prophète by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864), to whom the work is dedicated (and on this occasion the performance is immediately preceded by a playing-over of Meyerbeer’s theme). The turbulent opening bars of the work introduce passages of great excitement and virtuosity, including in particular a fanfare-like version of the chorale on a brilliant trumpet. For the contemplative Adagio, in which the organ’s quiet colours are extensively explored, the music moves from C minor to the remote key of F sharp major. A great climax prefaces the fugue, which begins strictly enough but soon acquires a free, rhapsodic quality.

With ‘Ad nos’, organ music reached a plateau of heroic maturity on which it was subsequently joined by Liszt’s later works for organ, the massive chorale fantasias and other works of Max Reger (1873–1916), and works of such twentieth-century masters as Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992). From now on, organists were on a par with pianists and conductors; and the grand, C major statement of the chorale with which the work concludes may be taken as a celebration of the organist’s emancipation from the organ-loft and his acceptance as a concert as well as a church performer.

Relf Clark © 2004

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