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Getting there…

This is really starting to look like something! I cannot wait to get this project done…

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400!!! Oh, and 401, 402…

I know, haven’t written much about any new albums in my collection of late. I have not done a whole lot of organ music collecting in the last two years or so. Yeah, when you lose your employment and become a (near) full-time stay-at-home-daddy, the household budget gets really tight. For my birthday my wife got me my 399th disc which presented two works for organ and orchestra! But, I admit, the number 399 had been bugging me for a while… So…

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The 400th CD in my collection is an album I’ve had my eyes on for some time, at least, if you could find any copy of it available here in the USA… (It’s on iTunes, but I prefer to have physical album in hand) I had long forgotten that I had an eBay account and that ebay was often a great place to find little treasures, and this album was no exception! This disc features a single work for organ, Symphonie Eucharistique, by composer Auguste Fauchard (1881-1957), performed by Emmanuel Hocdé on the 1862 Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Sulpice, in Paris.

I know, I know… Anyone who is familiar with this blog knows that I LOVE this organ. I have many recordings from St. Sulpice, and now (for my 400th disc) I have yet another. But the real treat is the music itself!

My first introduction to Fauchard’s music came a few years ago with the purchase of an album that features the composer’s Organ Symphony No. 2, Vexilla Regis, and his theme and variations Le Mystere De Noel Jesus Redemptor Ommnium 1940. His style of writing has fascinated me since. A student of Vierne, and André Marchal, his writing is very much a continuation of the later music of Charles-Marie Widor, and subsequently Louis Vierne.

However, Fauchard’s life as a priest (in addition to being an organist) has also greatly influenced his music as well–particularly the Symphonie Eucharistique–which is based on the Gregorian melodies Lauda Sion, Pange lingua, and Adoro te, among other themes. The resulting Symphonie is monumental in scale and the liner notes more accurately describe this 4 movement piece a symphonic fresco, as on this recording it occupies 57 minutes!

Under the fingers (and feet!) of Emmanuel Hocdé, the vast resources of the organ of St. Sulpice is on full display. From its powerful (not necessarily loud) full organ, to some of the more gentle and poetical capabilities of its solo stops, this organ NEVER ceases to amaze me. The colors this organ is able to produce lends itself only too well to the music.

I cannot overstate the combination of the beauty of this music, Fauchard’s writing, and Hocdé’s performance on this instrument, particularly at the outset of the 3rd movement–Communion. The theme from the chant O sacrum convivium is played on some beautiful combination of flutes and mutations that is set against a simple pedal line and a gorgeous figuration in the other hand. And having not seen the score here, I’m pretty sure that one hand is playing two parts on two different keyboards. This movement is amazing.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this album!

The above purchase led to two other albums that the same seller was offering… And I couldn’t restrain myself (a friendly reminder of why my collecting has been kind of put on hold). Both albums feature the organ works of Alexis Chauvet. Both discs, performed by Jacques Amade, are recorded on the 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ at the abbey of St. Ouen, Rouen, France. Once again, those of you who are familiar with this blog, know that I already possess a ton of recordings from St. Ouen. In fact, it’s probably the most recorded organ in my collection. Seems kinda silly that I should add yet more recordings of this instrument, but it’s really all about the music.

img_20180609_101911132.jpgTill now, the only other encounter I’ve had with the organ music of Alexis Chauvet is the splendid documentary on Cavaillé-Coll that the English company, Fugue State Films, produced a few years ago. And even then it was a thin introduction–with only two of his pieces featured. So, naturally, the “discovery” of these two albums would be enticing.

And having listened to them, I’m glad I purchased them. Alexis Chauvet’s organ works are somewhat unique in that there is a touch of the “popular” style of French organ playing (I would say typified by Lefébure-Wely), but also a mix of Franck, who is 15 years Chauvet’s senior. But there is also a forward treatment of counterpoint and pedaling that reveals the influence of the organ works of J.S. Bach on the French organ during this time.

His 20 Morceaux pour orgue are full of interesting pieces. For me I’ve taken such a liking to the fifteenth piece in the group, Office Des Morts in D minor, that I have sought out the musical score to learn it myself. It is really the only piece that can be linked with a somewhat liturgical idea, and is something that you might expect to hear at a funeral. But the piece to me is harmonically interesting and it’s called for 8′ and 16′ foundations are one of my favorite sounds on a French Romantic organ.

There are other pieces too that are a delight to listen to. Presented in Volume 2 are Chauvet’s 9 Offertoires, a group of Advent and Christmas pieces all based on Noël themes. These pieces I think best display this melding of the older classical style, with some of the new symphonic aesthetics that were being promoted at the time of their composition. Indeed the liner notes say that they were written after the composer was named organist of Saint-Merry, an organ re-built by Cavaillé-Coll that had deep roots in the classical french style, but with some of the modern leanings that Cavaillé-Coll would instill in the instruments.

It makes the choice of the organ at St. Ouen an interesting choice for these recordings as that instrument is, regarded by many in the organ world, one of the prime example of Cavaillé-Coll’s symphonic ideas. However, I’m struck in these recordings and with the Noël’s in particular, how well that instrument is still able to pull of peices that have a more classical feel to them.

My favorite of these Noël’s is the fifth piece in the series–La Nativité De Notre Seigneur (Nativity of our Lord). While this Noël is one of the most used by French composers, I never get tired of it. Here, Chauvet works the theme in some variations that lead up to the full power of the organ, which at St. Ouen is considerable!

I’m really glad that the purchase of the Fauchard album lead me to the discovery of these other two albums! It was worth taking that extra splurge to get them. Interestingly, I can hardly find anywhere else that has these CD’s with Chauvet’s works for sale. So, this was quite possibly a rare find!

Well. There you have it! My organ music collection has broken the 400 disc milestone! Granted I did it by adding yet another recording from St. Sulpice and two more from St. Ouen, but, hey! I’m on my way to 500!!!! Right?!? 😉

Distilling Music

A few weeks ago I asked my friend, who recently asked me some stumping questions, if he would like me to burn him a CD or two that somewhat “surveys” my collection and share some of my favorite music with him? He was interested. That was the easy part. Now… the hard part. Distilling over 450 years of organ music across 400+* discs, down into just a disc or two!

This is not the first time I’ve done something like this. The first was when I was in college (back when my collection was a tiny fraction of what it is now). A fellow organ student asked for some specific pieces and I just included a bit of bonus content! The second time was for the nephew of a my former boss who was showing some interest in the pipe organ. But even then, I think my collection was half of what it is today!

So where do I begin? Well, I know what I’m NOT including:

  1. Bach’s (attributed) Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
    and
  2. Widor’s Toccata (the final movement of his Symphony No. 5 for organ, Op 42/1)

Sorry to my friend. These two pieces are the two pieces that even many non-organ-music-listeners are usually familiar with–Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in particular. Truth is you will often find one and/or both pieces included on a concert album of organ music. I would maybe make an exception for the Widor Toccata if I choose to include his entire 5th Symphony, of which the Toccata is the final movement. Though, even in organ recordings, his 5th symphony is incredibly popular and recorded often.

I do have an idea of a few things I would like to include. I don’t want the music to all be from France and from the French Romantic School! I’d prefer to present a slightly more broad range of things, but even there, my collection is somewhat limited. I have virtually no recordings of English or Italian composers, very few Dutch or Belgium composers, few American or Canadian composers… For better or for worse, my collection leans heavily on the French Romantics. Not to say that I don’t have some other interesting things to share! I do!

An therein lies the problem. I have many pieces across many regions and time. I have recordings of pieces that are meant to be taken lightly, and some downright funny. Other pieces of music are quite grand and “serious.” Much is often times deeply religious. It’s hard to make a decision when I think about it that way.

Things become further complicated when you start talking about recordings with organ plus… As in: Organ and Brass. Organ and Orchestra. Organ and Flute. Organ and Piano. Organ, Orchestra, and Choir, etc… One extremly unique and fun piece that comes to mind is Pebble Beach Sojourn by Ron Nelson.

Over the years of collecting, I’ve also found much delight in some of the lesser known composers for the mighty pipe organ. Composers like Fauchard, Marty, Merkel, (Camillo) Schumann, Chauvet, Guiridi, and Urtega are just a small sampling of delightful musical discoveries I’ve made over the years.

My collection has also recently seen a small growth in organ works composed by women. While there are many women out there who have recorded albums, it is a bit of a rare thing in the organ world, and particularly on recordings, to include works composed by women. Thankfully, my recent “discovery” of the music of Rachel Laurin, Pamela Decker, Nadia Boulanger, to name a few, has added to the richness of my collection.

Yet another approach is to start thinking about what particular instruments do I enjoy listening too. I can name a fair few instruments here in the United States that are superb (Fisk, Pasi, Dobson, Skinner, etc.). I certainly have some favorites in Europe as well (Silbermann, Cavaillé-Coll, Kuhn, Klais, Cliquot, etc.)

One way I think I’m going to approach this fun little project is to lean on variety, but also just step back and ask myself which albums do I really enjoy for sheer auditory delight?!? I think THAT is probably the best starting point. Already some albums/collections come to mind. For instance, the magnificent collection of all of Bach’s organ works played on old Silberman organs in the Alsace region, recordings done by renowned recording engineer Christoph Frommen. (In fact, ALL of the recordings he’s been involved in are a clear first choice! His recordings are that phenomenal!)

Well… this is quite the puzzle that I have to piece together! And I’m sure I will thoroughly enjoy it.

 

*402, to be exact. More about that coming in a post I haven’t finished yet!