Classical CD Reviews

“POULENC: Organ Concerto” = Works of POULENC, WIDOR, VITALI, BOULANGER & HALLEY – Wm. Neil organ/others/Eclipse Ch. Orch. – MSR Classics

A concert celebrating a grand church organ loses something in translation from live event to recording. But if this eccentric program appeals, go for it!

Published on September 6, 2013

“POULENC: Organ Concerto” = Works of POULENC, WIDOR, VITALI, BOULANGER & HALLEY – Wm. Neil organ/others/Eclipse Ch. Orch. – MSR Classics

“POULENC: Organ Concerto” = WIDOR: Organ Symphony No. 6 in G Minor, Op. 42, No. 2; TOMASO ANTONIO VITALI: Chaconne in G Minor for violin and organ; LILI BOULANGER: Pie Jesu; POULENC: Concerto in G Minor for Organ, Strings, and Timpani; PAUL HALLEY: Winter’s Dream for soprano saxophone and organ – William Neil, organ /Heather LeDoux Green, violin /Jane-Anne Tucker, sop. /Paul Winter, sax /Eclipse Ch. Orch. /Sylvia Alimena – MSR Classics MS 1460 [Distr. by Albany], 54:18 ***:

This is one of those recordings that reviewers look at as a possibly suitable memento of the original concert it was taken from but as a less suitable standalone musical offering for the general public. That’s especially true here, since the program is so heterogeneous and so downright strange. The stirring Allegro from Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 6 and the Poulenc Concerto sit well together, although one could certainly gripe that offering an excerpt, even from so windy a work as the Widor, is not quite kosher. (Then again, of course, there’s ample precedent in the ubiquitous presence of the Toccata culled from Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 5). But there’s also the romanticized version of Baroque composer Tomaso Vitali’s Chaconne, which passed through the hands of several Romantic-era arrangers until it arrived on the desk of Rimsky-trained, old-music-loving Ottorino Respighi. And further, there’s Paul Halley’s New-Agey Winter’s Dream written for the Paul Winter Consort. The presence of the organ is the only unifying element I can see. Lili Boulanger is on the concert, one presumes, because—well, I’m not sure why she’s there, except that her attractive, nontraditional Pie Jesu gives soprano Jane-Anne Tucker something to do with four minutes and forty-two seconds of her time.

Sorry to sound so arch, but this really is a very odd program that probably made much more sense in situ, at the concert celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the John Jay Hopkins Memorial Organ of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. As a recording of the event, it certainly has the virtue of variety. It also has the benefit of solid performances from organist William Neil, organist of the National Presbyterian Church, as well as organist and harpsichordist of the National Symphony. He’s backed up efficiently by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under conductor Sylvia Alimena and has able collaborators in saxophonist Paul Winter, violinist Heather LeDoux Green, and the aforementioned Jane-Anne Tucker. However, if you’re seeking a performance of the title work on the program, namely the Poulenc Concerto, this is not the place to turn, in my opinion. As for the other pieces, this is about as good a place as any to turn.

The recording is a decent one, especially given that it was made live, in the ample acoustic of a large church. So if the program appeals (and you won’t find another like it in the catalog, I guarantee), you should find enjoyment here.

—Lee Passarella

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