Most organists intent on recording the darkly glittering organ symphonies of Louis Vierne head for the Gothic Abbaye de St Ouen in Rouen and Jeremy Filsell is no exception. The attraction is to play the music on the last great organ masterpiece of the iconic and innovatory French builder, Aristide Cavaille-Coll, inaugurated in 1890 by Vierne's teacher Charles-Marie Widor; whether in Rouen, Paris or elsewhere, the heart of late 19th/early 20th-century French organ music beats to the pulse of Cavaille-Coll.
Vierne (1890-1937) was the prodigiously gifted titular organist of Notre Dame de Paris de Paris for over 40 years; beset by blindness and a string of personal tragedies, Vierne's complex personality found vivid expression in the symphonies; composed in a rising scale of minor keys, they build on orchestral technique by elaborating a few main themes symphonically; the two post-World War 1 symphonies (5 and 6) reflect contemporary trends by pushing the bounds of conventional tonality. Listeners already engaged by concert organists' cherry-picking from the many thrilling movements in these symphonies will find exposure to the full cyclical structures of the complete works immensely rewarding. Filsell, famously untroubled by technical demands, concentrates on wringing every last drop of sonority in deeply-felt, idiomatic performances. His detailed notes on Vierne's life and the music are exemplary-the booklet further enhanced by his personal insights into the recording process, and the organ's idiosyncracies. Some might hanker for a closer microphone experience of the organ, but otherwise, in the face of stiff competition from Ben van Oosten's four-CD set on MDG, Filsell's three- CD package registers as complete in every way.