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Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)

The Organ Symphonies, Vol. 5

Joseph Nolan (organ)
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Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: March 2016
Total duration: 63 minutes 22 seconds
 

The monumental final two Widor organ symphonies take Joseph Nolan to the glorious Cavaillé-Coll consoles of La Madeleine for the Symphonie gothique (the composer's favourite) and of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse for the concluding Symphonie romane.

Reviews

'This fifth volume completes the symphonies, and will be a mandatory purchase for anyone who has collected the previous releases … [Nolan's] touch is poetic, and flows through Widor’s tensions and resolutions with a sense both of logical progression and of fresh discovery' (MusicWeb International)

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Journeying from New York to Le Havre, then onwards to Paris, the American illustrator and painter Edward [Edouard] Cucuel (1875-1954) kept copious notes and pen-and-ink sketches documenting the raunchier, rougher side of life and gothicism in the French capital during the 1890s, the Third Republic period of Widor’s final two organ symphonies. Written up by W C Morrow, these were published in 1899 in a book called Bohemian Paris of Today—a visceral narrative that sets the metropolis of Widor, Debussy, Ravel and Satie, Rodin and Verlaine, into flesh-and-blood context, giving the reader the under-belly of the city: girls, gangsters, poets, artists, buskers … the beautiful, the depraved, the maimed… the wreckage of empires oriental to occidental. Cucuel frequented Montmarte on the Right Bank. ‘Here are hot-chestnut venders at the corners; fried potato women, serving crisp brown chips; street hawkers, with their heavy push-carts; song-sellers, singing the songs that they sell, to make purchasers familiar with the airs; flower-girls; gaudy shops; bright restaurants and noisy cafés …’ In the ‘dazzling fairy-land’ of the Moulin Rouge Susanne of the ‘superb contour’, ‘queen of the models of Paris’, springs upon a table, ‘seizing a bottle of champagne, sending its foaming contents over as wide a circle of revellers as her strength could reach, laughing in pure glee over her feat, and then bathing her own white body with the contents of another bottle that she poured over herself’. One dark hour he climbed ‘the great hill of Paris’, taking the rue Muller to the fretted, unfinished torso of the Sacré-Coeur. ‘We seemed to be among the clouds. Far below us lay the great shining city, spreading away into distance; and although it was night, the light of a full moon and untold thousands of lamps in the streets and buildings below enabled us easily to pick out the great thoroughfares and the more familiar structures. There was the Opéra, there the Panthéon, there Notre-Dame, there Saint-Sulpice, there the Invalides, and, uplifted to emulate the eminence on which we stood, the Tour Eiffel, its revolving searchlight at the apex shining like an immense meteor or comet with its misty tail stretching out over the city. The roar of life faintly reached our ears from the vast throbbing plain, where millions of human mysteries were acting out their tragedies. The scene was vast, wonderful, entrancing.’

Less than four miles south, across the Seine, is the Latin Quarter of Panthéon and Luxembourg, the wealthy 5th and 6th arrondissements of Paris. Saint-Sulpice, the second largest church of the city and Widor’s realm for more than sixty years, dominates the 6th. Founded in 1646 (on the site of an earlier Romanesque église) with a distinctive façade and famously mismatched towers, it fronts onto a spacious 18thcentury square dominated by pink-candled horse-chestnut trees and an elaborate fountain completed in 1848. Within its vaulting grey calm is an elaborate gnomon, a series of Delacroix murals, and a grandiose five-manual organ by Cavaillé-Coll (the largest in France), inaugurated by Saint-Saëns, Guilmant, Franck and others in April 1862. Here the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire were baptised. Before its altar Victor Hugo and his childhood sweetheart Adèle Foucher were married.

A stroll from the church, down bustling streets on either side of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, were two celebrated Left Bank eateries. The Restaurant Foyot, established by Louis- Philippe’s chef, and the Café Procope, going back to the late 17th century. Widor and his comtesses held court at Foyot—‘haunt of the old French aristocracy and gentlemen of the older generation’ (Paris Restaurants, 1924); Verlaine and his cocottes at Procope—its gas-lit interior ‘as dark as a finely coloured old meerschaum pipe’ (Cucuel). The one a brilliant, witty raconteur; the other ‘the great poet of the slums, the epitome and idol of Bohemian Paris’. Canons and can-cans.

Of this place and time, la belle époque, yet loftily detached, inspired by the Cavaillé-Colls in the church of Saint-Ouen, Rouen (1890) and the basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse (1888), all the while reflecting the antiquity and fabric of their corresponding buildings in their titles, the Symphonie gothique, Op 70 (1893-94, ‘Ad memoriam Sancti Andoëni Rothomagensis’, published 1895) and Symphonie romane, Op 73 (1898-99, ‘Ad memoriam Sancti Saturnini Tolosensis’, published c1900), contrasting their Opp 13/42 brethren, favour moderation-concentration-unity above munificence-digression-diversity. High polyphony, intricate elaboration and imaginative registrations hallmark their manner. Held consonances, ambience-cultured cadence, their punctuation—moments like the closing prolongations of the first, second and fourth movements of the Romane or the conclusion of Gothique’s first movement enveloping the listener in a time-suspended halo of subterranean frequencies and humming, heroic harmonics. The balm and catharsis of ordered resolution mattered to Widor. A ‘charming teacher, a most brilliant conversationalist,’ Milhaud remembered, but one who ‘would utter cries of alarm at every dissonance he came across in my works’ (Notes sans musique, 1949).

Premiered by the composer in St Ouen, 28 April 1895 (Vierne having weeks previously aired a truncated version in Lyon), movements I-III of the basaltic Gothique were written in Persanges in the Jura during the summer of 1894. Overall the tonality scheme spells out the triad and octave of the home key: C minor—E flat major (bel canto inflected middle section in B flat)—G minor (6/8 fugue in four voices, excursioning to E flat minor and G flat major)—tierce de picardie C major (theme and variations). The third and fourth movements are based on pre-Solesmesised Gregorian plainchant—the Introit Puer natus est nobis (fourth Christmas Day Mass, Ad Missam in Die), admired by Widor for its purity of line and potential for ‘polyphonic development’. Of the six variations comprising the Moderato/Allegro finale, a quasi-passacaglia with origins possibly as early as the spring of 1890 when Widor inaugurated the St Ouen instrument [‘“Magnificat versets”, a fragment composed for the occasion (Symphonie gothique)’]: i) presents the plainchant as a long-note cantus firmus; ii) and v) are canons at the octave at four and two bars’ distance; and vi) is in the style of a virtuoso toccata culminating in a paen of snarling thunder and lofty chorale. The contrapuntal genius of this movement, of the symphony as a whole indeed, takes the high-ground at every turn, baffling some, awing others. ‘What is counterpoint,’ Widor wrote in a feuilleton about the B minor Mass (Piano-Soleil, 27 January 1895), ‘if not the art of writing luminously? It is not filling, trompe-l’oeil, false means, possible tricks; all is displayed in broad daylight, out in the full sun; each note has its value in the whole; each detail, each modulation, each plan must assert itself in its turn, sparkling as the facets of a diamond. We need, we want, to hear everything.’ The Ninth was Widor’s favourite symphony. At Saint-Sulpice it became customary for him to play the first movement at the Feast of All Saints’ Day (1 November); and the last movement, together with the Allegro cantabile from the Fifth, at Midnight Mass.

‘The nature of a masterpiece is to remain eternally new; time glides by without leaving its mark on it’ (Estafette, 10 February 1879). Distinct from the suite trajectory of Opp 13/42, the Symphonie romane—‘the apogee of [Widor’s] art’ (John R Near), completed in the summer of 1899 at the ancestral family home near Savigny west of Lyon—confines itself, like the Ninth, to a four-movement design. The opening phrases of a single chant—the Gradual Haec dies, quam fecit Dominus (‘This is the day the Lord hath made’, Easter Sunday Mass)—pervades the work, turning it simultaneously into a vast set of variations and a comprehensive application of Lisztian/ Franckian thematic metamorphosis. To Widor this melody and its ‘elegant arabesques’ was like ‘a vocalise as elusive as bird song’—lending itself to be used either flexibly, repetitiously, without development (as in the opening moderato); or metronomically. ‘When this theme is caught in a symphonic web, becoming part of the polyphony, it must be executed strictly in tempo, calmly and grandly without any kind of attenuation. It is not free any more, but has become the property of the composer.’ Motioned into being by ‘an introductory arabesque, as evanescent as a whiff of incense’ (Near), the first movement (12/8) initially presents the chant, quasi recitativo, espressivo, a piacere, against an F sharp pedal-point, the first four notes of the melody, F sharp-E-G-F sharp, delineating a familiar B-A C-H contour. The second and third voluntary-type movements are tripartite—a smoky adagio Chorale in F major (4/4), harmonising homophonic poco agitato in G major. Tonally discursive and temporally varied, the D major allegro finale, subdivided into five chapters, belongs among Widor’s supreme achievements, an imposing, richly stratified paraphrase on Haec dies in compound and simple metres, the power of the instrument setting acoustic and soul into a gloire of resounding union and oceanic inexorability—before the ‘incense’ of the first movement and five bars of triadic blessing, pianissimo, return it to silence.

The Tenth is the only one of the cycle for which an autograph survives, albeit incomplete (Bibliothèque nationale). Widor gave the earliest referenced performance on 6 January 1900, at the then new Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche in Berlin, his recital including also Bach’s G minor Fantasy and Fugue, ‘played marvellously’.

Ates Orga 2016

THE CAVAILLÉ-COLL ORGAN OF L’ÉGLISE DE LA MADELEINE
Built by the famed organ-builder Aristride Cavaillé-Coll (working with his father Dominique), the Grand Organ of La Madeleine was inaugurated in 1846 by Alexandre-Charles Fessy, with Louis James Lefèbure-Wély becoming chief organist in 1947. Originally comprised of 46 stops over 4 manuals and pedal, it was the third major instrument Cavaillé-Coll had produced for a Parisian church, the others being in the Basilique Saint-Denis and Notre-Dame de Lorette. Modifications since then include: restoration work in 1927, extending the keyboard range; the addition of six new stops (including mixtures) in 1957; increasing the number of stops to 57 in 1971, also automating the key and stop action; and an additional stop in 1928. Classified as a ‘Historic Monument’, it currently has 60 stops and 4426 pipes.

Lefébure-Wely was succeeded by an eminent succession of notable figures in French Church music; Camille Saint-Saëns (1857-1877), Théodore Dubois (1877-1896), Gabriel Fauré (1896-1905), Henri Dallier (1905-1934), Edouard Mignan (1935-1962), Jeanne Demessieux (1962-1968), Odile Pierre (1969-1979) and from 1979 François-Henri Houbart.

I. Grand-Orgue
Montre 16’
Gambre 16’
Montre 8’
Salicional 8’
Flûte harmonique 8’
Bourdon 8’
Prestant 4’
Quinte 2 2/3’
Doublette 2’
Piccolo 1’
Fourniture V
Cymbale V
Cornet V
Trompette 8’
Cor anglais 8’

II. Positif
Montre 8’
Viole de gambe 8’
Flûte douce 8’
Voix celeste 8 II
Prestant 4’
Dulciane 4’
Octave 2’
Trompette 8’
Musette 8’
Clairon 4’

III. Bombarde
Soubasse 16’
Flûte harmonique 8’
Flûte traversière 8’
Basse 8’
Flûte 4’
Octavin 2’
Fourniture IV
Cornet III
Bombarde 16’
Trompette 8’
Clairon 4’

IV. Récit
Flûte harmonique 8’
Bourdon Céleste 8’
Prestant 4
Flûte octaviante 4’
Octavin 2’
Larigot 1 1/3’
Plein Jeu IV
Cymbale IV
Bombarde 16’
Trompette 8’
Basson-Hautbois 8’
Voix humaine 8’
Clairon 4’

Pédale
Quintaton 32’
Contrebasse 16’
Flûte 8’
Violoncelle 8’
Flûte 4’
Bombarde 16’
Basson 16’
Trompette 8’
Clairon 4’

THE CAVAILLÉ-COLL ORGAN OF LA BASILIQUE SAINT-SERNIN DE TOULOUSE
La Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse contains the grand three-manual Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ, built there in 1888. Together with the Cavaillé- Coll instruments at Saint-Sulpice in Paris and the Church of St. Ouen, Rouen, it is considered to be one of the most important organs in France. It was inaugurated in 1889 by Guilmant with 54 stops on 3 manuals and pedal. From the beginning it has been recognized as an important work of art and it remains essentially unchanged today.

1. Grand Orgue (II)
Bourdon 16
Montre 8
Flute harmonique 8
Gambe 8
Salicional 8
Bourdon 8
Prestant 4
Flute octaviante 4
Quinte 2 2/3
Doublette 2
Fourniture V
Cymbale IV
Cornet V
Bombarde 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4
Clairon-doublette 2
Trompette en chamade 8
Clairon en chamade 4

2. Positif
Montre 8
Cor de nuit 8
Salicional 8
Unda maris 8
Prestant 4
Flute douce 4
Carillon III
Basson-Hautbois 8
Trompette 8
Clairon 4

3. Récit
Quintaton 16
Diapason 8
Flute harmonique 8
Viole de Gambe 8
Voix celeste 8
Flute octaviante 4
Octavin 2
Voix humaine 8
Basson-Hautbois 8
Cornet V
Bombarde 16
Clarinette 8
Trompette 8
Clairon harmonique 4

Pédale
Principalbasse 32’
Contrebasse 16
Soubasse 16
Grosse flute 8
Violoncelle 8
Octave 4
Bombarde 32
Bombarde 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4

Signum Classics 2016

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