This was one of the last SACDs to be released by Universal, who seem to have given up on both hi-res disc formats. Sorry we are tardy in reviewing it. I was saving several SACDs devoted to the organ music of Cesar Franck for review at the same time, and this was the first. Latry is an internationally famous pipe organist and is the official organist at Notre-Dame, warming the same organ bench which in the 19th century supported originators and developers of the French symphonic organ school, including Franck, Widor, Guilmant and Vierne.
Franck was organist at St.-Clotilde in Paris and worked with organ builder Cavaillé-Coll on a new instrument with expanded stops and pneumatically-assisted key action, which was installed in 1859. Franck had more than a decade earlier given up his career as a virtuoso pianist and turned to the organ, as well as the harmonium. He wrote his Piece Heroique not for a church organ but for a large concert organ built by Cavaillé-Coll for the 1878 World’s Fair. No wonder it has such a heroic, non-liturgical aura about it! (And has long been my favorite organ work.) The Prelude, Fugue and Variation is often heard in its original piano version, but its transcription for organ is more developed and more exciting. The Three Chorales were written late in Franck’s life when he was turning out a great deal of music for the harmonium. He must have appreciated the much greater facility for different registrations and tone colors in the pipe organ when writing these works, which owe an obvious debt to Bach. The Third is the most memorable melodically, sounding in places almost like a transcription of songs for high voice and piano.
SACD surround is almost de rigeur for pipe organ recordings, and the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame has all the bells and whistles to explore the many symphonic-like tone colors of these Franck works. Unfortunately, the sonics are a bit muddy and distant, loosing some of the inner voices more easily discerned on some of the other French SACDs in the short stack in front of me. Stay tuned for the other entries coming up.
– John Sunier