Tuesday 8 October 2013

Widor - Organ Symphonies nos 3 and 4, op 13

Widor Symphonies - volume 3, Joseph Nolan: SIGNUM
In May 2011, Joseph Nolan recorded Charles-Marie Widor's ten organ symphonies at La Madeleine, Paris for Signum. This disc is the third volume, containing symphonies nos 3 and 4, op 13 which Widor published in 1872. Widor was the organist at St Sulpice in Paris where a huge Cavaillé-Coll organ was installed in 1862. The sound world of Widor's organ music is intimately bound up with the sound of the Cavaillé-Coll organ. The organ at La Madeleine was installed by Cavaillé-Coll in 1846 and though it has been restored and extended, the instrument makes a fine vehicle for the music.

Charles-Maries Widor (1844-1937) is one of the great survivors of 19th century French music, remaining in place as organist of St. Suplice in Paris from 1870 to 1933. He was one of the prime movers in the revival of French organ music and wrote ten organ symphonies. Whilst individual movements from Widor's symphonies have remained popular, notably the famous Toccata, the symphonies themselves as complete works have been notably neglected and have only more recently started to come back into common currency. The works on this disc are not symphonies in the sense that Beethoven would have used the term. Widor attended the opening Bayreuth Festival in 1876, but the symphonies were written before Widor had fully absorbed the harmonic language of Liszt and Wagner into his style.  The symphonies are fare more influenced by the sense of the baroque suite, and the harmonic language is relatively straightforward, plain even. But what he does is weave into this a striking command of counterpoint, the lines in the music is in constant motion.

Organ Symphony No. 3 in E minor is in five movements, Prelude: moderato, Minuetto, Marcia, Adagio, Finale: allegro molto. The opening movement, Prelude: moderato is close textured, its fluid material constantly flowing and overlapping over astonishing pedal points. Nolan's registrations bring out the distinctive nasal quality of the Cavaillé-Coll organ. In the Minuetto Nolan creates a fine sense of dialogue with different stops and registers, including some very characterful solo stops. The third movement is a resounding march, including an astounding tutti on the organ. Nolan manages to make the movement seem flowing, and not bombastic. The Adagio is played with a very soft edged tone, again Widor's musical lines flow and interweave. The Finale is full of arpeggiated passagework in delicate swirls over strong pedal points. There is constant movement, subtly flowing from one idea to another.

Organ Symphony No. 4 in F minor is in six movements (in fact both symphonies underwent changes in the number of movements), Toccata, Fugue: Moderato assai, Andante cantabile: dolce, Scherzo: Allegro vivace, Adagio, Finale: Moderato. The opening Toccata is rather grand and very stately, expansively Elgarian in fact. Nolan brings a good sweep to the piece, bringing out the architectonic feel. This leads to a very elegant fugue, with rather a sinuous subject. The Andante cantabile is a lovely, carol-like song without words with a nice dexterity to the moving inner parts. This movement and the following Scherzo are both positively Mendelssohnian, with the Scherzo being delightfully light-fingered. The Adagio introduces more complex harmony with a distinctive array of timbres. The Finale finishing things off with a grand martial theme brought to a sonorous conclusion.

The organ at La Madeleine was originally 46 stops over 4 manuals, it was restored and extended in 1927 and 1957 and again in 1971 and currently has 60 stops. The booklet includes the full stop list but I would have quite liked some information on the registrations used by Nolan in individual movements.

Nolan's performances are exemplary on this disc, he is clearly in sympathy with Widor's style and brings out the music's fascinating flexibility and constant moving parts. Evidently his speeds are slightly slower than some previous recordings, but if you can make the adjustment then these are extremely desirable performances to have. I have to confess, though, that I will return to the discs by dipping into the symphonies rather then listening to them as a single entity.

Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) - Symphony No. 3, Op 13
Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) - Symphony No. 4, Op 13
Joseph Nolan (organ)
Recorded at L'Eglise de la Madeleine, Paris from 4 to 8 August, 2011
SIGNUM SIGCD334 1CD [59.23]

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