POULENC: Organ Concerto in g; WIDOR: Organ Symphony No. 6 (Allegro); TOMASO VITALI: Chaconne; LILI BOULANGER: Pie Jesu; PAUL HALLEY: Winter’s Dream – William Neil, organ/ Heather LeDoux Green, violin/ Jane-Anne Tucker, sop./ Paul Winter, sax/ Eclipse Ch. Orch./ Sylvia Alimena – MSR Classics

by | May 7, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

POULENC: Organ Concerto in g; WIDOR: Organ Symphony No. 6 in g, Op. 42/2 (Allegro); TOMASO VITALI: Chaconne in g for Violin and Organ; LILI BOULANGER: Pie Jesu; PAUL HALLEY: Winter’s Dream for Soprano Sax & Organ – William Neil, organ/ Heather LeDoux Green, violin/ Jane-Anne Tucker, sop./ Paul Winter, sax/ Eclipse Ch. Orch./ Sylvia Alimena – MSR MS 1460, 54:18 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

This is a live concert that took place on October 10, 2010, at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the John Jay Hopkins Memorial organ, and the new Solo Division of the National Presbyterian Church. From the sounds of this recording it must have been quite a spectacular event, though the CD goes a long way towards capturing the brilliance of the original.

Charles-Marie Widor is in a long succession of organ players that goes back to Bach himself, and he succeed Franck and came before Dupre, finally retiring at the age of 90 from his post of 64 years at St. Sulpice. He is best known for his explosive and fabulously inventive Organ Symphonies, of which several have become famous for individual movements as well, as the work given here. It is a stormy and forceful piece that makes for a fine opening to this concert, William Neil making use of the considerable colors of his Hopkins organ to full effect.

Vitali’s Chaconne is a long-time standard that has been arranged by a number of famous violinists, going back to Mendelssohn’s friend Ferdinand David, who first fashioned the piece into something popular. Vitali is the most famous of his family line originating in Bologna even though it was his father who was the more famous composer back in the day. Nevertheless, the work took a life of its own and is now an accepted masterpiece with many different arrangements of it making the rounds, including the orchestral piece by Respighi. Heather LeDoux Green, a member of the National Symphony Orchestra, plays it with suitable passion and emotion in an excellent performance.

Lili Boulanger’s work is almost unknown to all but connoisseurs, but those who have taken the time to explore her extremely creative and challenging choral music are quite the better for it. Pie Jesu is from her Catholic Requiem, and was the last work for her all-too short 24 years of life, which was taken down on her deathbed by her adoring older sister, Nadia. The day she died was truly a loss for the world of music, and the sentiments posited by the performance of soprano Jane-Anne Tucker do her memory proud.

The meaty portion of this disc belongs to Poulenc’s masterly Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani, a piece that marks Poulenc’s rediscovery of his Catholic faith, and its tone is nowhere like the other “baroque” pieces that were more parodies of the genre than genuine imitations. There is no silliness here, nor high spirits; the work is replete with dramatic, almost instinctual conversations about the nature of the seriousness of his religion. Indeed, he said, in a letter to Françaix, “The concerto…is not the amusing Poulenc of the Concerto for two pianos, but more like a Poulenc en route for the cloister.” This was the beginning of several sturdy and consistently performed religious works, and though this one doesn’t make it into the concert hall too often, it is perhaps the most performed work of its type since the Baroque. This performance is superb, and if it lacks the crisp, acerbic nature of the legendary Biggs/Ormandy interpretation on Columbia (Available on RCD Records) it more than makes up for it in quality of sound, truly resplendent.

Lastly, the brief Winter’s Dream for soprano sax and organ, named after the season and not the person (!) according to the composer, and was written for William Neil’s cousin Paul Winter and Neil himself. It’s a nice comedown after all that has gone on before, though this sort of musical style will remain an acquired taste for many, pseudo-jazz and pop, and loaded with sentimentality.

As mentioned before, the sound on this disc is stunningly realistic and almost at an audiophile level. An easy recommendation.

—Steven Ritter