The organ and venue for this superb recording is the church of St. Francis de Sales in Lyons, blessed by the 1880 Cavaille-Coll that adorns it. This place was chosen to try and accurately reproduce the type of environment that Caesar Franck would have worked in, and was made necessary as his known haunts are no longer set up with the same instruments he worked with during his lifetime.
This magnificent SACD recording is the first volume in an attempt to record all of the extant liturgical music of the composer, and the corresponding organ pieces as well. Evidently this is not an easy task; much of the music was written and redone for various situations specific to a place and time. Sorting through the various scores and trying to determine the “original” intention involves a lot of detective work, knowledge of the period, Franck’s own preferences as noted by contemporaries, and a little common-sense guesswork. Even his organ registrations as present in many of the scores are not the originals, and so testimonies from his disciples such as Charles Tournemire are of prime importance.
The music is not what you might expect, the Romantic fevers of his Symphony in D minor, or the chromatic madness of so much of his popular organ music. Nor is it of the type a Gounod might have written – syrupy and sentimental; this is deliberate, beauteous music of great import, modern for its time (and some of it for ours), while at the same time intensely melodic and memorable. I was surprised at how often I could hum along with this music, having never heard much of it before. That’s how “predictable” its melodies are, though that should in no way be taken as a knock on this wonderful stuff. Just listen to the very last track, the psalm motet Dextera Domine, and try to get it out of your head all day.
We have a varied mix here, some organ only tracks, full chorus, chorus and soloists, and soloist(s) alone. The choir is of 14 boys, singing away at their French-pronounced Latin like they were born to do it, and all of the singers and soloists are wonderfully idiomatic. I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed this, and look forward to volume 2. The sound is exquisitely captured, and in a church this size it cannot have been easy. Great stuff!
— Steven Ritter