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CLASSICAL  July 2009

CLASSICAL July 2009

Subject:

Vierne Organ Symphony

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 15:20:58 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (75 lines)

Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Second Symphony in E Minor, op. 20
Carillion de Westminster, from 24 Fantasy Pieces, op. 54, no. 6

Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
Allegro from Sixth Symphony in G Minor, op. 42, no. 2
Andante sostenuto from Gothic Symphony in C Minor, op. 70

Christopher Houlihan, Organ
Austin Organ, op. 2736 (1971)
Trinity College Chapel, Hartford, Connecticut

Towerhill Recordings. 2007 TT:63:01
Availability: Towerhill-recordings.com

Louis Vierne studied with Cesar Franck and Charles-Marie Widor and among
his own students were Marcel Dupre and Nadia Boulanger, for whom Aaron
Copland wrote his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra.  These 'symphonies'
by Vierne and Widor are for organ alone.  It is not easy to compare them
with orchestral symphonies.  They do have multiple movements - five each
in the case of both Vierne's 2nd and Widor's 6th but, as here, individual
movements are frequently played by themselves in recitals or on recordings,
even by such organists as E.  Power Biggs, Virgil Fox and Michael Murray.
I was first introduced to works of the modern French organ school in an
exciting recital many years ago by Lavahn Maesch at the Lawrence University
Conservatory of Music, of which he was director, and his program included
several movements from different organ symphonies.  Organ music tends
to be associated with churches but these are strictly secular, absolute
music.  Even secular music is often recorded in churches, because the
great organs tend to be in such venues.

The movements in Vierne's Second Symphony are marked Allegro, Choral,
Scherzo, Cantabile and Final, providing considerable change of pace and
character over the nearly forty minutes duration.  The dynamics range
from very loud to very soft and a strong merit of this performance and
recording is that the different voices can be distinguished clearly,
even when one is softer than another played at the same time.

The sound is clean.  In a review of another recording of this work,
coupled with Vierne's First Symphony, John E.  Roos (Fanfare, reproduced
by Arkiv.com) delights in the acoustics of Saint Sulpice in Paris, and
the 'impact of these thunderous sounds echoing through the cathedral's
expanse, rattling the windows, shaking the walls.' I experienced similar
sublime shock and awe in New York City's Riverside Church once, but I
wonder if such thrills are really musical.  The Trinity College Chapel
does not shake here.  The program note of an old recording on Classic
Editions of Dupre's Symphonie Passion, op. 23, calls the Trinity College
Chapel 'an ideal setting for the [organ]; lofty and resonant, it provides
the acoustic necessary for the full development of organ tone.' At the
time of this old recording the organ there, 'a great instrument' by
Harrison and Noble, with 65 stops and 4,323 pipes had been installed in
1932.

Evidently this organ was replaced by a presumably even better one in
1971.  The specs for this are listed in the Towerhill notes.  Christopher
Houlihan was a brilliant undergraduate student at Trinity College at
the time of this recording and had already been distinguished by more
than one honor.  Since then he has studied and worked in France and is
presently, I believe, at Julliard.  Regarding his live performance of
this Second Symphony by Vierne, Brian Jones of the American Guild of
Organists gave Houlihan a rave review in Boston Chapter's Newsletter
(Sept. 1, 2007 issue.)

As far as the Widor 6th Symphony movement is concerned, I know is a
recording by David Patrick which is nearly two minutes faster but I think
the big sound of this piece may benefit in clarity from Houlihan's tempo.
Houlihan's Gothic Symphony and Fantasy Pieces excerpts are lovely.

Copyright 2009 by R. James Tobin

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