Classical CD Reviews

“Florence Mustric Plays, Vol. 4: Symphonies Spectacular and Sublime” = MARCEL DUPRÉ: Three Preludes & Fugues; FRANCK: Three Chorals – Florence Mustric, organ – MSR Classics

Very musical performances but hardly exciting ones. And while both pay homage to Baroque forms, they don’t make the grandest impression on a Baroque-style organ.

Published on January 19, 2013

“Florence Mustric Plays, Vol. 4: Symphonies Spectacular and Sublime” = MARCEL DUPRÉ: Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 7; FRANCK: Three Chorals – Florence Mustric, organ – MSR Classics MS 1273 [Distr. by Albany], 66:00 ***:

OK, so technically there are no symphonies here, not even organ symphonies of the type that Widor and Vierne crafted, though their “symphonies” have little to do with the typical orchestral symphony. No, these works of Dupré and Franck, by their very nomenclature, are cast in older forms, both harking back to Baroque models. Of the two composers, Dupré is the more advanced, bringing up-to-date (circa 1912) harmonies and rhythmic patterns into his breathtaking Preludes and Fugues, Op. 7. But Franck, writing at the end of his life (1890), brings a half-lifetime experience of organ improvisation to bear on his Three Chorals, thus taking an older form (the chorale prelude) and wedding it to improvisatory writing that pushes the harmonic envelope, as well as driving the concept of Lisztian thematic transformation to the limit.

Otherwise, the album title makes sense. Dupré’s music is all about éclat, forward momentum and hyper-virtuosity. On the other hand, the inward, eccentric, near-mystic César Franck does enshrine a certain sublimity in his late works, at odds with the often passionate nature of the masterpieces of the 1870s and 1880s—the Piano Quintet, Le Chasseur maudit, Psyché.

It may be unfortunate that the notes to this recording cite Dupré’s Opus 7 “as a supreme technical challenge. For years it was considered unplayable by anyone but Dupré.” That seems to set us up for more than we can actually expect from Florence Mustric’s performance, which is highly accurate and musical but not especially virtuosic. The swirling toccata that is the Prelude in B Major—shades of Widor—and the whirlwind of arpeggios and chromatic runs that make up the Prelude in G Minor seem mincing here, especially the G Minor Prelude—and especially compared to Dupré’s own 1958 rendition, which you can hear on YouTube, if you’ve a mind. Precision has its own rewards, I think, and Mustric’s performance may be one that organ students will want to hear. For the casual listener, however, something more flamboyant will appeal.

I think Mustric is more at home in the mostly serene and spiritual Franck Chorals, which I, mostly, enjoyed. But even here, the fleet-of-foot final Choral in A Minor is taken at a tempo that emphasizes drama and structure more than élan. And many other organists have been able to embrace both drama and élan.

Even the organ that Mustric plays, the robust-sounding organ of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland, is not the type of organ usually associated with either of these composers, especially Franck. The notes to the recording tell us that this organ was built in Hamburg in 1958 by Rudolph von Beckerath, “who crafted it in the tradition of the organs of northern Europe in the Baroque era.” An unusual choice. When you hear the name Franck, you think naturally of the Romantic-era Cavaillé-Coll organ, since Franck officiated from 1859 till his death at the keyboard of one of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s grander organs at St. Clotilde in Paris. Both Franck and Dupré remarked that when you sit at the console of a Cavaillé-Coll instrument, you’re in command of a virtual orchestra of sonority and dynamic shading.

As I say, on the asset side of the ledger is Florence Mustric’s unfailing musicality, plus MSR’s typically rich, fulsome recorded sound. There are a number of debits, however, and while I think this might be an interesting alternative to more idiomatic performances, it certainly isn’t the way to hear these works for the first time or, for that matter, on anything like a regular basis.

—Lee Passarella

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