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handsoff

César Franck's Chorales For Organ

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The subject of "Building a Library" on Radio 3 next Saturday morning is as the topic title suggests.

 

P

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This was a fascinating programme, thanks for pointing it out, Handsoff.

 

Graeme Kay surveyed 16 currently available recordings, listed below in order of appearance – and the winner was ...

Jennifer Bate’s recording from 1981 on the Danion-Gonzalez organ of the Cathedrale St. Pierre de Beauvais, with honourable mentions for Jean Guillou, Marie Claire Alain, Colin Walsh and Eric Lebrun.

 

The sixteen versions reviewed:

  1. Charles Tournemire at Sainte-Clotilde, Paris
  2. Susan Landale at Saint-Etienne, Caen
  3. Torsten Laux at Laon
  4. Catharine Crozier at Wichita State University, Kansas
  5. Jennifer Bate at St. Pierre, Beauvais
  6. Marie-Claire Alain at Saint-Etienne, Caen
  7. Colin Walsh at Lincoln Cathedral
  8. Roberto Antonello at Parish Church of Salgareda, Treviso, Italy
  9. Maurice Clerc at Saint - Sernin, Toulouse
  10. Daniel Roth at Saint-Sulpice Paris
  11. Andre Isoir at Lucon
  12. Pierre Pincemaille at Saint - Sernin, Toulouse
  13. Eric Lebrun at Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts, Paris
  14. Christoph Maria Moosmann at St. Georgskirche, Riedlingen
  15. Hans-Eberhard Ross at Church of St Martin, Memmingen
  16. Jean Guillou at St Eustache, Paris

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Thanks for the heads up on this. Most interesting and full marks to the Beeb for this.

 

I must admit I was slightly dissappointed at the way Graham Kay dismissed so many of the recordings because of the merest hint of action noise - ruling out many fine recordings and performances in the process. To me, some action noise is to be expected with many of these Cavaille-Coll organs: it is part of their character and one is likely to hear some action noise if one were hearing the organ live. I felt the final choice was slightly too distantly recorded for my taste: I would have rather have a slightly less cloudy-sounding recording at the expense of introducing some action noise. It is a matter of purely personal taste, but I am not sure I would have rated the Jean Guillou recording, with its mischevious facilitations of the rhythms and in some cases the notes too, so highly either.

 

However, I think I may well find myself a copy of Eric Lebrun's recording quite soon...

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I felt the final choice was slightly too distantly recorded for my taste: I would have rather have a slightly less cloudy-sounding recording

This recording, like the first four disks of Bate's Messiaen, was recorded ambisonically, and the released stereo disks are UHJ encoded. This means that the ambience, which is appropriate when spread round 360 degrees by being played back correctly as a surround recording, is gathered between the speakers in front, and so seems more than one is used to in a simple stereo recording.

 

All recordings from Nimbus, and a few from Unicorn and Collins, are/were recorded this way, which is why Nimbus recordings are so often criticised for excessive ambience (Nimbus monitor in surround while recording, and make no compromises on account of stereo playback). As I also record ambisonically, and can play these recordings back correctly, I am rather pleased that decent surround recordings from almost thirty years ago (only five years or so after the technology was invented) are available!

 

Paul

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They are in a 'proper' surround format - just an unfamiliar one! The problem is finding a market - that is why this technology has languished in the sidelines; Nimbus have tried releasing a few disks as DVDs decoded for a simple speaker layout*, but with no great success, I guess. The alternative is to show people how to play them; in the early 80s (when the Franck was recorded) Boots (yes, the chemists) were close to releasing a domestic surround system to play ambisonic UHJ recordings - but they got cold feet when the main sponsors (the NRDC) started blowing hot and cold, so the big opportunity to start building a market for proper surround recordings was lost and has never returned. I could say a lot more, but it would really be off-topic here. However, if you are rich enough, Meridian make equipment that will play ambisonic recordings... I can also show you how to play them quite easily using a computer, but I haven't added that bit to my web site on the subject yet.

 

Paul

 

* One point of ambisonics (among many) is that the recordings are made and distributed in a format that makes no assumptions about the number and position of the speakers that will be used to play them.

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I've only listened to 47 minutes of it and already I am horrified. It is clear that Graeme Kay is not thinking about the recordings e.g. action noise etc. I have the S Landale set and the Librun but I personally prefer the Landale, but I have also found merits in the Librun set. Has Graeme Kay actually recorded himself the complete works on organ on a Cavaillé-Coll? I though his presentation was patronising and reflects badly on the BBC - sorry guys.

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To an extent I agree. We are organists and so we are used to making allowances for action noise on recordings (not to mention runnings, clapped out winding, etc.) However...

 

Graeme Kay did not tell us at whom his review was aimed, but I think it fair to assume (and would most certainly hope) that, as with any other repertoire featured in Record Review, he was addressing the general music lover. If we want the organ to be regarded as a serious musical instrument equal to others we should not seek to make special allowances for it and I think it perfectly reasonable not to ask non organists to put up with intrusive, non-musical noises.* I would not want to listen to a disc of piano music featuring a squeaky pedal.

 

* Including birds singing on final chords, for that matter. It seemed slightly inconsistent that he did not mind this.

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Including birds singing on final chords, for that matter.

 

We have a CD of William Christie playing harpsichord works by Fischer, recorded somewhere in France with a Robin chirping along in the background. I must say it adds to the pleasure of listening.

 

JE

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We have a CD of William Christie playing harpsichord works by Fischer, recorded somewhere in France with a Robin chirping along in the background. I must say it adds to the pleasure of listening.

 

JE

 

On one of my recordings from Saint-Antoine, one particular G major chord (in low pitch!) with exact registration using the Tierce, roused the twitterings to a frenzy in the trees in the courtyard. We even tried a re-take at 2am - but to no avail. They started in the dark too. But I have subsequently learned that some reviewers thought this charming as it underlines the pastoral location and the extreme tranquillity that surrounds the Abbatiale and the village.

I think with editing and the like we have perhaps reproduced in some measure, fake perfection.

All the best,

N

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To an extent I agree. We are organists and so we are used to making allowances for action noise on recordings (not to mention runnings, clapped out winding, etc.) However...

 

Graeme Kay did not tell us at whom his review was aimed, but I think it fair to assume (and would most certainly hope) that, as with any other repertoire featured in Record Review, he was addressing the general music lover. If we want the organ to be regarded as a serious musical instrument equal to others we should not seek to make special allowances for it and I think it perfectly reasonable not to ask non organists to put up with intrusive, non-musical noises.* I would not want to listen to a disc of piano music featuring a squeaky pedal.

 

* Including birds singing on final chords, for that matter. It seemed slightly inconsistent that he did not mind this.

I don't really see what the difference is between a "general music lover" and "us" when it comes to recordings and reviews of recordings. Of course, many of "us" are very informed, can already play the 3 chorales and know what a Cavaille-Coll organ sounds like but I don't know why this makes "us" any different from a "general music lover" - except possibly be a little more discerning.

 

I think there's a difference between a piano with a squeaky pedal and an organ where one can hear the barker-lever action. One is a fault, which can be fixed with some oil or graphite; the other is created as part of the instrument in its normal operation.

 

I've got a lovely recording of Adlington Hall with a fire in the background. Having the fire cracking and popping in the background charminginly enhances the "feel" of the recoring of this organ in a large country house - it gives a sense of place and character to the recording. You feel more like you're there, in the hall on a cold day, listening to the organ with the fire roaring next to you.

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There's a live recording of the Philip Marshall Piano Concerto with the Lincoln Cathedral clock chiming the hour.

 

I really like Nigel's comment about modern audio edting producing "fake" perfection.

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I was not happy with the review, and am posting below (slightly edited) what I wrote on the BBCR3 CD Review message board.

 

"As we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, and with our ability to purchase recordings on sale both here and overseas - and even download them - at the click of a mouse, might it not be time for a re-assessment of the criterion ‘available recording’? I too was wondering about the absence of Peter Hurford’s 1984 recording from the assessment, and yet I have just ordered the two-disc compilation set ‘Romantic Organ Works’ (released in 2000) - which contains the three Chorals - on Amazon. The 1984 recording, incidentally, while not available as a CD, is available for download. Hurford is eighty this coming November; I hope the BBC will mark this in some way.

 

"Passing reference was made by a previous poster to Wolfgang Rübsam, and I clearly remember hearing the E major Choral from his Franck recording on Record/CD Review soon after it was released by Bayer Records in 1990 - and it can still be purchased on-line from them, yet it wasn’t featured in the review.

 

"Another recording, by Michael Murray on the Saint Sernin, Toulouse organ (Telarc) is available from Amazon, yet again, does not appear to have been considered. One personal regret is that Gillian Weir’s 1984 BBC Radio 3 series on the organ works of Franck (using, again, the Saint Sernin organ) was never issued on CD."

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Of course, many of "us" are very informed, can already play the 3 chorales and know what a Cavaille-Coll organ sounds like but I don't know why this makes "us" any different from a "general music lover" - except possibly be a little more discerning.

Perhaps I am out of date, but I wonder. This may well be true of members of this forum and should certainly be of any organist who has pursued a degree in music, but in my time I have certainly come across a large number of very keen organists out there who have a much more blinkered interest and really have little appreciation or knowledge of music outside the organ and religious choral repertoire.* I suspect (though I do not know) that many pianists may have a similarly narrow outlook. I have generally found players of orchestral instruments to have a much broader musical appreciation (for obvious reasons).

 

This blinkered attitude was quite common amongst the organists with whom I was at the RCM. They would all congregate by themselves at one end of the canteen and, as far as I could see, rarely or never mixed with anyone else. The same was true of the singers, who commandeered the other end. Everyone else (the real musicians, you might almost say) seemed to mix quite well in the middle. I was probably one of the most blinkered of all, but I was, I think, unique in keeping company mainly with non organists and I am sure this did me a world of good in broadening my horizons, even though I am quite sure I missed out in other respects. (I do not mean this to sound holier-than-thou; it is just a fact.) Of course we were all very young then and I daresay we all will have widened our horizons with age and experience.

 

It may all be very different today, perhaps. Fewer organists, for one thing.

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I was sorry to see the Roth recording dismissed, as I believe that in terms of interpretation he is miles in front. However, it is easy for us to disagree with something as subjective as this; we all have passionately held ideas about how Franck MUST be played! Graeme Kay did explain his criteria, though, and I do appreciate Radio 3 giving serious consideration to organ music.

 

By the way, I like to think of myself as a "general music lover" as well!

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I think there's a difference between a piano with a squeaky pedal and an organ where one can hear the barker-lever action. One is a fault, which can be fixed with some oil or graphite; the other is created as part of the instrument in its normal operation.

 

Actually, there's an argument that there is no difference at all. Stopping a pedal squeak in a piano is easier than eliminating the clatter of Barker lever machines, but both are possible. The question is not so much how easy it is to eradicate the noise but, rather, whether such noise is part of the sound the instrument builder was aiming for, or merely an instrumental artefact. Or, to put it another way, did the instrument maker deliberately set out to produce that noise?

 

Now, I don't for a moment believe ACC thought, "What I envisage for the sound of this instrument is a lot of clattering and thudding. I wonder how I can make such a sound? I know, Barker Lever machines!" Surely it is far more likely his thought processes went along the lines of, "B*gg*r me, this instrument is going to be impossible to play without some sort of mechanical assistance. What could I use? Hmm ... there's the Barker Level, but it makes a hell of a noise. What else is there? .... Ho, hum, it'll have to be the Barker Lever then, and we'll have to hope that the infernal row it makes doesn't detract too much from the music. Perhaps I can place it where it won't be too audible."

 

Isn't this where the "ordinary listener" differs from the organophile, in much the same way that the ordinary commuter differs from the Railway Enthusiast? The enthusiast sits rigid with ecstasy in his dimly-lit compartment as it fills with sulphurous fumes whilst passing through a tunnel* whereas the commuter would be appalled at the prospect. We may love the clatter of the Barker lever machines and the thud of the piston mechanism - but we are Enthusiasts, and we can't expect everybody to share our eccentricities.

 

According to his write-up on the R3 web site Graeme Kaye knows his onions (shallots?) when it comes to the organ.

 

* I know about these things - trust me.

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Very well put. Bottom line for me is: does the result sound musical? I'm afraid that Barker levers, rickety trackers and the like... well... I never was a fan of musique concrète.

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Building a Library on the Franck Chorals was always going to be a quick romp through a selection of available records. I listen to this programme a lot and I don’t expect to agree with everything the reviewer says. What I did find interesting was the opportunity to hear a number of recordings that I had not previously come across.

 

The rules of the game are to get down to one “library” recording, therefore the reviewer has to come up with reasons for eliminating recordings. In this context, Graeme Kay’s stance that one might not want to listen to the same creak repeatedly seems fair enough.

 

By the end of the programme, I wasn’t unhappy with his final choice, though my personal favourite is Marie-Claire Alain’s recording from Caen.

 

My collection is already over-provided with Franck Chorals, but if I was looking for another version (and something more off the beaten track) then the one I would seek out from among those played on the programme is the one by Roberto Antonello on the 1999 Zeni organ at Salgareda.

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Do contact the BBC to let them know there is an audience for organ music out here. If you feel compelled to complain about the particular program, please preface your remarks with a general one about wanting to hear more organ music on R3, otherwise they will take your comments as a vote against the organ!

 

You may also wish to add your comments to this quite busy thread on this subject on the BBC message boards. It's amazing how many of the regular denizens there are coming out as organists.

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My first recordings of these works were Jeanne Demessieux and then Germani. I still think they are wonderfully wrought performances in differing traditions perhaps. But the quality of the recordings might leave much to be desired these days. I love the description of the former's funeral in her church in Paris (La Madeleine). The coffin was draped in black (Dior?) to the floor and the organ remained silent.

N

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There's been no mention of a set I have here (the complete Franck) by Dame Gillian at Aarhus cathedral. recorded 1997. I confess it's a long time since I've listened to it but I seem to recall that, for me, it was ideal. I'd be interested to hear whether anyone else has any comments on it.

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My favorite recordings are:

 

Vynil: Grünenwald in Saint Ouen de Rouen: this is a true rarity but unforgettable

 

CD: André Marchal (titular organist of St Eustache until 1963 when he dismissed)

 

CD: Pierre Pincemaille in St Sernin

 

In the last 2 recordings I find exciting to listen to musicians who dare to play faster than usual the 3rd Choral.

Explanations on this by PP:

 

http://pierrepincemaille.fr/data/franckinterpretation.pdf

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There's been no mention of a set I have here (the complete Franck) by Dame Gillian at Aarhus cathedral. recorded 1997. I confess it's a long time since I've listened to it but I seem to recall that, for me, it was ideal. I'd be interested to hear whether anyone else has any comments on it.

 

Yes - I've seen that this was once available and would love to hear it, but it is, alas, deleted at present!

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My favorite recordings are:

 

Vynil: Grünenwald in Saint Ouen de Rouen: this is a true rarity but unforgettable

 

CD: André Marchal (titular organist of St Eustache until 1963 when he dismissed)

 

CD: Pierre Pincemaille in St Sernin

 

In the last 2 recordings I find exciting to listen to musicians who dare to play faster than usual the 3rd Choral.

Explanations on this by PP:

 

http://pierrepincemaille.fr/data/franckinterpretation.pdf

 

I'm glad that someone else out there likes Pierre Pincemaille's recording and have always been slightly afraid to admit to it for fear of being scorned! I must admit that I bought it more to hear the St. Sernin instrument in music from that period than anything else but I do like his possibly cavalier interpretation which, I think, is given adequate justification both in the CD notes and the document to which you have linked.

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I'm glad that someone else out there likes Pierre Pincemaille's recording and have always been slightly afraid to admit to it for fear of being scorned! I must admit that I bought it more to hear the St. Sernin instrument in music from that period than anything else but I do like his possibly cavalier interpretation which, I think, is given adequate justification both in the CD notes and the document to which you have linked.

critics

 

You are not he only one to like this recording!

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