Sunday, 13 June 2010

Charles-Marie Widor - The complete recordings

Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1837) was and still is like Louis Vierne, one the most important organ composers and all organists know that he was organist at the famous Saint-Sulpice in the heart of Paris for 64 years. With the help from the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll he became a student of Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens and was later to become professor at the Conservatoire in Paris succeeding César Franck. Through his work as a teacher, he defined the way of organ playing, a tradition and style which is still alive today. As an advocate of the instruments of Cavaillé-Coll, he helped to inaugurate several very important instruments, such as Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Trocadéro and Saint-Ouen de Rouen. Like Louis Vierne, his influence cannot be underestimated.

We are so fortunate, that he did choose record 6 sides for the French department of HMV (called “La Voix de son Maître”) in 1932, the year before he retired. It’s quite obvious, that he or his recording company wished to preserve his interpretation of his own works. So they chose to record parts of the Symphonie Gothique, which by my best estimate was not a commercially interesting piece at that time. The Gothique was recorded on four sides, two sides for a complete take of the first movement, one side for the second movement and the last side for the last section of the Finale. Cutting and pasting to fit the time limited 78rpms was typical for the early era of record making. Finally he chose to record his every popular Toccata from the 5th symphony.
When listening to these recordings and especially the Toccata, we must keep in mind that Widor was 88 years old at the time he recorded. One anecdote tells that he had said when recording the Toccata, that “he was closer to the grave that the organ bench”.

One other very important note to these recordings is that Widor was one of the oldest musicians to record. It’s interesting to listen to a musician who had had his musical education from teachers born in the first part of the 19th century and was fully developed as a musician well before the turn of the century. Other French instrumentalists born like Widor in the first part of the 19th century who did make recordings is e.g. Francis Planté (1839-1934), Raoul Pugno (1852-1914) (almost) and Camille Saint-Säens (1835-1921). They all represent a style and taste where rubato was well defined and tastefully rendered in an almost nonpersonal/objective manner. The musical lines are always bold and organic. In my personal opinion I find these recordings even more important than the Vierne recordings due to the repertoire recorded (his own music) and the circumstance that Widor was 88 years old and represents a style almost not documented on organ.

A technical note: We had difficulties splicing the two sides of the Toccata together. The problem is that Widor makes a ritardando towards the end of the first side and stops by making some sort of arpeggio. Again great thanks to Michael Gartz for providing the original 78rpms in great condition and to Claus Byrith for cleaning and cutting the recordings afterwards. Like the Louis Vierne-recordings I can present the best transfer available.

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Saturday, 12 June 2010

Louis Vierne - The complete recordings

Louis Vierne (1870-1937), the famous organist of Notre Dame de Paris, hardly needs any introduction. As a student of César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor he quickly rose to fame and became assistant to Widor at Saint Sulpice in 1892. From 1900 until his death in 1937 he was titulaire at Notre Dame de Paris. Louis Vierne’s importance as an organist and composer cannot be underlined enough. His musical legacy is immense – just think of how many of his works are in the core of the standard repertoire of every organist.

So it’s with great pleasure, that I’m now able to present one of the most legendary cycle of organ recordings. These recordings were made in November 1928 and allow us to listen to the almost intact Cavaillé-Coll organ from 1868. As far as I can read, the only modifications made until 1928 was done by Louis Vierne in 1902.
The recorded repertoire is typical for the period. There is a collection of smaller pieces by J. S. Bach, a single piece by Vierne himself and three improvisations, which Duruflé transcribed along the Tournemire improvisations in 1956. Based on other recording organists of the period, I think that Louis Vierne and his recording company, French Odéon, were thinking of making commercially interesting recordings instead of preserving the legacy of Louis Vierne as it is the case with the recordings of Charles-Marie Widor.
Louis Vierne was 58 years old at that time and they were perhaps thinking that there was still time for another recording session? We can of course only speculate, but it is noteworthy that he did not record any of this larger works such as movements from his symphonies.

The excellent transfers here were provided most generously by Michael Gartz and carefully restored and spliced together by Claus Byrith, and they are in my opinion the best transfers available. Michael Gartz’s original 78rpm’s are of mint condition and as written in the track list three (extremely rare) American pressing were used for six of the sides. Taking in account that these are some of the first organ recordings made in Europe, the sound in this transfer is remarkable clear and detailed.

So I would like to send a big thank to Michael Gartz and Claus Byrith for making these important recordings available in a second to none quality.

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