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Organ Symphony No 7 in A minor, Op 42 No 3

composer
1887

 
The Seventh symphony is in six movements, the triple-time outer ones in sonata design. The uncompromising drive and cogency of the first, with its angular rhythmic patterns and short-breathed rests, manuals and pedals octaved at the start, fff, at once declares the toughness of Widor’s intentions. Likewise the brevity and assertive ‘no nonsense’ punctuation of the closing cadence. ‘The great majority of organists,’ Saint- Saëns knowingly reminded him years later (29 September 1919), ‘retreat terrified before your works’. The Finale, Near proposes, intensifies the atmosphere of the first. ‘Here is epoch-making organ music, new and thrilling—even hair-raising—in its conception.’ Its magnificent opening subject, Aeolian-cut on pedals against an open-fifth shield and short chordal daggers, lends itself to tight motivic development.

The Choral placed second alludes loosely to the slow movement double theme/variation prototype of Haydn 103 and, more particularly (given the added temporal dimension), Beethoven 9. An audibly clear, finely wrought, structure unfolds. First subject, ABA, A major (minor)/C sharp minor/A major, Andante 4/4, forte/piano/forte. Second subject, AB, A minor-E minor, Andantino 6/8, pianissimo. First subject, curtailed reprise, C major (minor), Tempo I 4/4. First variation/development, second subject, C minor-G minor, rising to a sustained soprano cantus firmus on the first subject, F-sharp minor, Tempo II 6/8. Second variation/ development, first subject, A major, baroque division style, Tempo I 4/4. Coda, contrasting syncopated (right hand) and augmented (right foot) versions of the first subject, Poco più vivo 4/4.

With its distinctively Neapolitan opening, the third movement is a sicilienne à la Mendelssohn in F-sharp minor/major, Andante-Allegretto—bringing a touch of grace and light staccato to the proceedings. The central animato is in B minor. An intermezzotoccata- étude in A minor à la Schumann follows. The most pianistically laid-out of any movement in Widor’s symphonies, its model, Near ventures, may lie in Liszt’s Vision, ‘the funeral of the first Napoleon advancing with solemn and imperial pomp’ (Busoni), the sixth of his Études d’exécution transcendante. ‘The main theme, in long notes [a minore form of the Choral cantus], rides over an accompaniment altogether extraordinary for the organ, a flurry of arpeggiated figuration […] that rises and falls like great waves.’ The second edition (1900-01) revised, readdressed and shortened the original text by 44 bars. Distantly recalling the Orphean pages of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, the lento fifth movement, in C-sharp minor/major, journeys a high spiritual realm in contrasting paragraphs of proclamation and supplication.

Near identifies the first theme of the Choral as the Seventh’s Urmotif. Evidently related in contour and scale reference, though in neither key, harmony, metre nor bass-line, to the andantino of Franck’s Pastorale Op 19 dedicated to Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1860-62), it variously informs each movement of the work, establishing a quiet, often subliminal, cyclic unity across the whole—at times near-Sibelian in anticipation.

from notes by Ates Orga 2014

Recordings

Widor: The Organ Symphonies, Vol. 4
SIGCD337Download only
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1
CDA66121Archive Service

Details

Movement 1: Moderato
Track 1 on SIGCD337 CD1 [7'03] Download only
Movement 2: Choral: Andante
Track 2 on SIGCD337 CD1 [8'39] Download only
Movement 3: Andante Allegretto
Track 3 on SIGCD337 CD1 [7'12] Download only
Movement 4: Allegro non troppo
Track 4 on SIGCD337 CD1 [7'15] Download only
Movement 5: Largo
Track 5 on SIGCD337 CD1 [5'57] Download only
Movement 6: Finale
Track 6 on SIGCD337 CD1 [9'48] Download only
No 6: Finale
Track 8 on CDA66121 [7'28] Archive Service

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