To have the complete recordings of so important a figure as Tournemire on a single disc is something no collector of organ recordings can afford to spurn. That he was important as much as an executant as a composer for the instrument, that his status as a Franck pupil is unimpeachable, and that the recordings were all made on the 1859 Cavaillé-Coll organ at the church of Sainte Clotilde in Paris, are all significant markers. The last gains even greater relevance when one appreciates that Franck composed for this very organ and that a rebuild that came soon after these recordings were made in 1930-31 forever altered its sound.
The Franck selection is an enormously important one, reflecting as it does the composer's own influence on his student, Tournemire. Two excerpts from L'Organiste offer a roll call not only of Franck's compositional affiliations but also that extraordinary sense of variety that Tournemire was able to bring to his music-making, the registrations, and the colour. The second piece is especially compelling, a faster setting from Anjou full of fantasy and colouristic vivacity. The Pastorale is free flowing and fluid, a sectionalised work, sporting lovely rustic, harmonium voicings. The copy is doubtless rare, but is rather scuffy and noisy. The Cantabile (1878) is a limpidly questing opus depicting the 'unfulfilled desire of the soul' in Tournemire's words whilst the Choral No.3 is played with incomparable virtuosity and acute musical penetration.
Tournemire's own compositions are equally rare on 78s. The Paraphrase-Carillon prefigures Messiaen, and this work is one of amazing sounds, realised by its composer with equally amazing skill in the unisons, harmonisations, carillon figures, echo writing, the resolutions and, not least, the panoply of virtuosic demands. The Five Improvisations, uniquely satisfying, embrace a wide variety of moods and textures. The Cantilène has a fluid, almost spooky quality to it, its mystic nature strongly to the fore. Perhaps the Te Deum is the most striking in its grandeur and leonine qualities but all five are memorable, eventful and magnificent.
Arbiter's booklet is extensive, expansive and makes for highly recommendable reading. As noted there are some scuffs and a generally high level of surface noise throughout.