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Based on the melodic contours of theme A, the Aria's prevailing mood is hazy and mysterious. A chordal introductory passage interjects between episodes of wide-ranging, arching 'vocal' lines (inverted contours of [B] on the Récit trompette. The final stanzas juxtapose these ideas and the cadence forms a musical 'sunset' of static luminosity. In the brilliant scherzo, theme [A] is clear, later appearing in inverted form. Siegfried Schibli stated that the movement had 'an iridescent quality that sometimes stops little short of the grotesque reflecting Vierne's pronouncement that in the music's bizarre and humoresque rhythms, he had attempted to depict the derisive grin of a gargoyle.' The haunting, brooding Adagio emerges from a long 'pedal point' and evolves into a chromatic labyrinth built from both themes [A] and [B]. Lyrical and expressive, the solemn and static coda is one of exquisite beauty.
In strong contrast to the astringency of the four preceding movements, the Finale is an ebullient, joyous and free-spirited tour-de-force. [B] is transformed into a rousing statement of splendour, pomp and even razzamatazz and the movement's unbridled joie-de-vivre has undoubtedly contributed to its reputation as one of Vierne's most popular symphonic finales. After the long, drawn-out tension of the preceding movements' journey, the joyous optimism of this conclusion to the symphony is entirely justified. In Rondo form, the rousing opening theme (transformed theme [B] is spectacularly underpinned by pedal 'timpani'. A new and lyrical 'second subject' infuses the central, contrasted episode and the reprise of the opening music heralds developments of [A] in combination with the movement's second subject in grand statement. The famous cascading pedal scales usher in the brilliant conclusion, ending Vierne's symphonic 'journey' at a point where the elasticity of tonality seemed to have been stretched to breaking point.
from notes by Jeremy Filsell © 2005
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