LOUIS VIERNE: Vol. 3: Symphony No. 5 in a minor Op. 47; Symphony No. 6 in h minor Op. 59 – Hans-Eberhard Ross, Goll-Orgel of St. Martin, Memmingen – Audite SACD 92.676, 73:12 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/27/14) *****:
We reviewed the first of these three volumes here, but seem to have missed Vol. 2 along the way. Since that review goes into detail on the organ and the sonics, I will confine myself here mostly to the musical qualities of these two last organ symphonies of Vierne.
At the time of composition of these works, the composer was in a serious funk of loneliness and illness. The second half of his life was full of adversities and struggles. Though he had been able to achieve the restoration and expansion of his beloved organ at Notre Dame, he was handicapped by the extreme limitations of his eyesight from birth (Glaucoma), his father and sister both died during his childhood, he lost both his brother and his son in the First World War, and he lost first his lover and then his wife to other men.
The Fifth is in five movements, like all six except the First. He departed completely from the exuberance and romantic idiom of his earlier symphonies and made increased use of dissonances and atonal moments. Composed during 1923 & -24, this is the longest and most extensive of his organ symphonies, and uses a cyclic design. It opens with a slow movement, the second movement has a powerful nightmare-like conclusion, and the last movement was described by a reviewer at the time as the “torture of a soul in desperation.”
Six years later, Vierne composed his Sixth Symphony and appeared to have overcome the depression and desperation of his previous symphonies. It has a more relaxed atmosphere and although he eschewed the 12-tone system, some of its first movement themes comprise all twelve tones of the chromatic scale within a narrow space. The second movement Aria has a jazz-like effect, and the Scherzo movement is grotesque and diabolical. The fourth and fifth movements are an extreme contrast to one another. The Adagio fourth is strongly expressive and has an air of sadness. But the concluding movement bursts with energy and virtuosity—especially in the pedals.
A complete disposition of the St. Martin pipe organ is listed in the note booklet, and it is very extensive.