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Dip Your Ears, No. 45 (In Spiritum)

available at Amazon
C.Franck, In Spiritum, Olivier Latry

Massive French organ music of the late Romantics is admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you like organ music and have no problem with the sometimes fairly dense structures of Vierne, Dupré, and Co., you should give Olivier Latry’s latest CD with music of César Franck, In Spiritum, a listen. A big draw is likely the SACD surround sound this disc offers – it is not even issued in a Red Book-only version. (Latry’s disc before this one, Midnight at Notre Dame, was chosen by Gramophone Magazine to be the best disc to test the abilities of your surround sound system.) If the regular stereo and stereo SACD sound of this hybrid are anything to go by, it must truly be a sonic spectacular and definitively a major nuisance to your as-always noise-oversensitive neighbors. The Grande Orgue de Notre Dame had its beginnings in 1402 when Frédéric Schambantz built it but got its unashamedly Romantic grandness largely from the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll when he took to it in 1868 (it has since been restored and added to twice, in 1963 and 1992). It is lovingly and enthusiastically helmed by Latry, the Notre Dame organist who has, among other recordings, made a name for himself with his excellent integral Messiaen organ music cycle.

César Franck’s talent with the organ received the attention and support of Cavaillé-Coll, and his organs were in turn the impetus behind some of Franck’s compositions for the instrument. So, for example, the Pièce héroïque, the third of the Trois pièces pour la grande orgue from 1878, a secular piece composed to show off the grand Cavaillé-Coll organ at Trocadéro, built for the World Fair. It gives downright delicate insights into the compositions of Franck, who was working on his piano quintet at the same time. The work’s two themes merge for a simply awesome finale.

Prélude, Fugue et Variation, op. 18 (also in B minor), is the conclusion of Six pièces d’orgue, written in the late 1850s. Romantic polyphony in a classical structure makes this a particularly interesting semisacred musical contribution. The melodic, serene prelude comes back throughout the variation – the fugue, more or less in the middle, provides an instantly recognizable and hummable melody… not necessarily the norm in heavy-duty Romantic organ music.

Trois chorales pour grande orgue (E major, B minor, and A minor) from 1840 are more ‘Bachian’ yet, perhaps hence the particular appeal? It’s the only work presented within their complete set and at over 40 minutes it is the most substantial offering. If Romantic polyphony sounds more or less appealing but Reger’s music doesn’t quite do it for you, this probably would.

As a disclaimer I have to say that having grown up with Bach’s organ music enthusiastically piped through our house, I am partial to the instrument. (I did have a crisis of faith when I first realized that church organs, for lack of pumping choristers, need electricity; something that had not occurred to me until I switched the local church organ on. I have since recovered.) Still, while this is not a disc for everyone, those who take to the kind of music and aren’t afraid of cranking it up will be delighted. I myself am left with the greedy question of when we can have the complete Franck organ works with Latry.

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