CÉSAR FRANCK Complete Organ Works in Three Volumes – Audite

by | Sep 5, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CÉSAR FRANCK Complete Organ Works in Three Volumes

Vol. 1 “From Prodigy to Composer” – Piece en mi bémol; Piece pour Grand Orgue; Andantino; Fantasie in C Major; Five Pieces for Harmonium transcribed by Louis Vierne for grand organ; Offertory in A Major; Fantasie in C Major version I; Quasi Marcia; Six Pieces for Grand Organ: Fantasie; Grande Piece Symphonique; Prelude, Fugue and Variation; Pastorale; Priere; Final
Vol. 2 “Unrecognized Greatness” – Pieces posthumes pour harmonium ou orgue a pedales pour l’office ordinaire Nos. 1 – 40; Offertoire sur un Noël Breton pour Harmonium; Fantaisie ini C Major version III; Entrée pour Harmonium; Trois Pieces pour grand orgue: Fantasie en LA majeur; Cantabile; Piece Heroïque; Petit Offertoire pour Harmonium; Untitled piece
Vol. 3 “Fulfilment and Farewell” – Pieces pour orgue ou harmonium: 7 Pieces en Ut; 7 Pieces en Ré majeur & Ut# mineur; 7 Pieces en Ré; 7 Pieces en Mi; 7 Pieces en Mi majeur & mineur; 7 Pieces en Mi mineur & majeur; 7 Pieces en Fa majeur & Fa mineur; 7 Pieces en Fa# mineur & Sol# majeur; 7 Pieces en Sol majeur & Sol mineur; 7 Pieces en La# majeur & Sol# mineur; Trois Chorals pour grand orgue: Choral I en Mi majeur; Choral II en Si mineur; Choral III en La mineur.
— Hans-Eberhard Ross, Goll-Organ of St. Martin, Memmingen, Germany (built 1998) – Audite Multichannel SACDs, 2 per volume:
Vol. I – 91.518, disc 1: 70:34, disc 2: 75:54 ****
Vol. II – 91.519, disc 1: 64:31, disc 2: 61:30 ****
Vol. III – 91.520, disc 1: 70:29, disc 2: 68:48 ****

This collection of three SACDs, available separately, claims to be the first recorded edition of all of Franck’s works for the organ.  So many of the works are either premiere recordings of the premiere recording of the particular work on pipe organ. There have been some so-called complete sets previously, but they usually comprised fewer CDs so this one is much more complete. Several of the works were originally written for the harmonium – the small reed pump organ used in many early churches who couldn’t afford a pipe organ, as well as being a part of countless living rooms in the 19th century. The pipe organ used for the recordings is a recent instrument but is felt to have many similarities to the Cavaillé-Coll organs which Franck found inspiring. Its disposition of pipes is detailed in the note booklets.

Cesar Franck was a rather reticent and shy person, taking after his contemporary, Anton Bruckner, in having a considerable struggle and lack of success during most of his career, but finally being recognized as an important composer during the last portion of his life. Both composers began as organists and the organ was very important to realizing each of their musical ideas.   In the case of Franck his recognition tied in with his getting the position of main organist at Paris’ Sainte-Clotilde church, where he remained until his death.

The very first work on the first double-SACD volume is presented here for the first time. It is the first organ work Franck composed:  Piece en mi bémol (E flat), a nine-minute prediction of many of the devices he used in his later organ works. Though it looks back to French organ music of the 18th century, it also uses nearly orchestral settings which seek the voluminous acoustics of a large cathedral for best musical effect. It also has a religious demeanor about it.  There is not much polyphony, but one strong fugue. the Quasi Marcia which closes out the first disc is an interesting short work which seems like it could be fairly popular in services today.

No. 2 of the Six Pieces for Grand Organ is by far the longest of any of the six and has stood alone on many recordings: the Grande Piece Symphonique.  This major work definitely moves us into the organ symphony style, with a more impressive structure and orchestral-like registrations than most organ works which preceded it.  The influence of Liszt’s tone poems can be heard in Franck’s approach to both a symphonic-like structure as well as overall timbre. Some of his chords are a struggle for organists today to encompass; they must use pedal couplers to play them. The reason is that Franck possessed huge hands!

The Posthumous Pieces for Harmonium or Organ take up all of the first disc in Volume II and a portion of the second. The collection was also titled The Organist II and is thought to be exemplary works written for a former Franck pupil who was now the organist of a small country church.  Many run much less than a minute long and include various steps in the church rituals. Only the offerings run longer – about six minutes. There is a total of 40 of these short pieces.  It is clear most of them wouldn’t work on the harmonium – simply too many notes plus often a need for a pedal line. The second volume’s big Franck hit is the Piece héroïque, probably the composer’s most famous organ work. Not a liturgical composition, it was written after France had lost a war against Germany, and encouraged self-reflection and pride in spite of the failure. The heroic gestures of this work are thrilling to hear in hi-res surround sound.

The third volume presents another series of very short and easier pieces to be used during ordinary church services.  Originally he had planned a collection of 100 pieces, but only finished 63 of them. According to Franck’s pupil d’Indy, they are Magnificat versicles, to be used as part of the Vespers, taking on the unevenly numbered verses of the Magnificat in alternation with a choir. The final three works of the series, and of Franck’s life, are the frequently-heard Three Chorales. Each is quite different from the other two, but all three are filled with more motific material than usually heard in Franck, and the harmonic development is ingenious. No. 3 shows the strong influences of J.S. Bach as well as Wagner. It provides a fitting summation to this first recording of the entire organ works of Franck.

– John Sunier

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