Poulenc and Saint Saens Organ Works
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Cat No: LPO0081
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 3rd November 2014
WorksOrgan Concerto in G minor
Symphony no.3 in C minor, op.78 'Organ Symphony'
ArtistsJames O’Donnell (organ)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
This is the first recording released of the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall organ. This sell-out concert in March 2014 was part of the 'Pull Out All The Stops' festival launching the refurbished Harrison and Harrison organ, complete for the first time since 2005. The sense of occasion in this live recording is palpable.
From the first earth-shattering chord of the Poulenc, it is clear that this is an instrument of hugely impressive proportions. The thrilling finale of the Saint-Saëns in particular showcases the organ’s resonant bass, the packed Royal Festival Hall vibrating to its core.
In the adept hand of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Saint-Saëns Symphony demonstrates how well this huge instrument integrates with the orchestra – always a challenge in live recordings. There is an amazing transparency of sound between organ and orchestra, and a sense of space that allows the music to breathe naturally.
Soloist James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of Music at Westminster Abbey, has received numerous awards and honours for his recordings, including the Gramophone Award for ‘Record of the Year’ in 1998 for his recording of Masses by Martin and Pizzetti for Hyperion.
The booklet includes full organ specification and an article on the history and refurbishment of the organ by its curator, Dr William McVicker.
Recorded live at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London, on 26 March 2014.
1Poulenc - Organ Concerto - I. Adagio, Allegro Moderato
2Poulenc - Organ Concerto - II. Allegro giocoso
3Poulenc - Organ Concerto - III. Andante moderato
4Poulenc - Organ Concerto - IV. Tempo allegro, molto agitato
5Poulenc - Organ Concerto - V. Tres calme: lent
6Poulenc - Organ Concerto - VI. Tempo de l'allegro initial
7Poulenc - Organ Concerto - VII. Tempo introduction: largo
8Saint-Saens - Symphony no.3 'Organ' - I. Adagio, Allegro moderato
9Saint-Saens - Symphony no.3 'Organ' - II. Poco adagio
10Saint-Saens - Symphony no.3 'Organ' - III. Allegro moderato, Presto
11Saint-Saens - Symphony no.3 'Organ' - IV. Maestoso, Allegro
When the Festival Hall closed in 2005 for a major refurbishment, the organ was removed for a long-due overhaul, but although the hall itself reopened in 2007, it was a further seven years before the complete organ was restored, its piping thoroughly serviced, its layout tweaked to adapt to the hall's newly-altered details, and aspects of its mechanics and electrics brought up-to-date.
In March 2014, the restored instrument was the centrepiece of the Southbank Centre's Pull Out All The Stops festival, during which the concert recorded on this new disc took place. The performances quite rightly give the organ its due, but will appeal to far more than just a narrow selection of organ buffs. And, while Downes' design sought above all to rekindle interest in a German baroque musical heritage, it sounds undeniably splendid in this later French repertoire. Much of that is down to the vastly experienced organist James O'Donnell, who manages to find just the right combination of stops to prove most effective in this repertoire, expressive in the slower and quieter passages of the Poulenc, but bitingly robust in the louder music.
Yet the London Philharmonic under Yannick Nézet-Séguin also play a major part in making this disc a success. Nézet-Séguin keeps his players on a tight rein in the faster passages of the Poulenc, where the strings are thrillingly incisive, but he allows space for tasteful and elegant lyricism in the Andante and the air-like Très calme section, and the closing Largo is extremely affecting. The timpani pack a real punch – an inspired addition to the scoring on Poulenc's part – and the balance throughout, as captured by producer Andrew Walton and engineer Deborah Spanton, is well-nigh perfect.
In the Saint-Saëns, the orchestra really comes into its own, the sound-picture focused but not over-dry, and the music flows along gorgeously at a nicely-judged pace, the brass impressive but never overpowering, the slow movement beautifully poised and reflective with the organ providing deft harmonic support. In the Scherzo, articulation is crisp and alert, the important four-hand piano part coming across clearly. The finale is a truly thrilling, edge-of-the-seat affair, brilliantly illustrating the enormous benefits of recording orchestra and organ together in the same hall, rather than the latter being tacked on afterwards from a separate venue as was shockingly common on recordings in the 1970s and 80s.
It should be evident that this disc is much more than merely a souvenir of a specific occasion. With compact but useful notes on the music by Andrew Mellor and an extended but accessible and thoroughly fascinating essay on the Festival Hall organ by its current curator William McVicker, this is a real peach.
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