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CD: Crotchet


César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Trois Chorales (1890): Chorale No. 1 in E major: Moderato [15:03]; Chorale No. 2 in B minor: Maestoso [13: 45]; Chorale No. 3 in A minor: Quasi allegro [13:33]
Trois Pièces (1878): Cantabile: Non troppo lento [6:00]; Pièce Héroïque: Allegro maestoso [8:52]
Pastorale: Andantino, Op. 19 [9:07]
Final in B flat major: Allegro maestoso, Op. 21 [13:04]
Colin Walsh (organ)
rec. March 2008, Lincoln Cathedral, England. DDD
GUILD GMCD7324 [79:50]
Experience Classicsonline

For the Guild label this is an attractive single disc of organ music from composer and organist César Franck. Colin Walsh recorded this music in the spring of 2008 on the renowned ‘Father’ Henry Willis organ (from 1898) at Lincoln Cathedral.
Born at Liège in Belgium, Franck went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire. He was to live out the majority of his life in Paris, becoming established at the Conservatoire as organ professor. Franck’s organ music is held in high regard by musicologist David Ewen: “The organ had become a neglected stepchild of French music in the nineteenth century. It was restored to its one time status by Franck. A remarkable organist himself, whose improvisations were legendary.” (The Complete Book of Classical Music, David Ewen, Robert Hale, London (1978). Pg. 641)
The first set of works on the disc is the Trois Chorales from 1890 in the final months of his life. Franck wrote his Trois Chorales shortly after he was hit by a vehicle in Paris, an accident from which he subsequently died. The listener is made very much aware of deep concentration from Colin Walsh in Franck’s glorious writing in the Chorale No. 1- a work poignant with a comforting underlying strength. Again I felt an intense attentiveness from Walsh in the Chorale No. 2. One immediately notices the sad and brooding theme in the bass that Franck subjects to a number of variations. Symphonic in feel the Chorale No. 3 makes an immediate impact, especially the Toccata-like opening with Walsh catching its lithe and vigorous character. The gentle central section provides a sense of comfort and security and the Finale is a triumphant restatement of the main theme.

Franck composed his Trois Pièces in 1878 for the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Palais du Trocadéro, in Paris and two of the three pieces: the Cantabile and Pièce Héroïque are offered here. The attractive Cantabile: Non troppo lento is kept mainly within a narrow range. I found this an inspiring interpretation with a range of passion that sent a shiver down my spine. In this exciting performance the popular and dramatic Pièce Héroïque reveals Franck’s ability to move easily from chamber music delicacy to symphonic weight.

The disc includes two of Franck’s set of Six Pièces. These are the earliest pieces on the disc. In 1858 Franck was appointed organist for the magnificent newly constructed instrument at Sainte-Clotilde. Here Franck was in charge of one of the greatest achievements of organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. He soon made a reputation for himself and admirers came from afar to hear his playing. Around 1860-63 Franck started to publish some organ works that included the Six Pièces. The great Franz Liszt proclaimed the set of Six Pièces as worthy of a, “place alongside the masterpieces of Johann Sebastian Bach.”
With the Pastoral: Andantino, Op. 19 Franck lays out a brilliant palette of colours whilst maintaining the unhurried nature of the work. It is played with a meditative, sacred feel by Walsh. The final track is the Final in B flat major, Op. 21, marked Allegro maestoso. I loved Walsh’s dramatic and uplifting performance which communicates a feeling of unrestrained joyfulness.
This is a very fine recital on the Father Willis organ of the Lincoln Cathedral – itself clearly an extraordinary instrument. Colin Walsh impresses from start to finish with playing that abounds in insight and sensitivity. Especially impressive is Walsh’s astute selection of tempi - breathing life into the soul of the music. This contrasts markedly with the generally measured pace favoured by Roberto Antonello on a recent set of these Franck scores from the Salgareda church, Treviso for the Fagott label. The Lincoln Cathedral acoustic is pleasing and is here warm and admirably balanced. The well written booklet notes cover most of the essential information.
Michael Cookson


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