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Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Sonata No.7 in F, Op.89 [30:03]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Pièces de fantaisie:
Toccata [3:43]; Clair de lune [8:45]; Impromptu [2:59]; Etoile du Soir [6:47]
Alexandre GUILMANT
Sonata No.4 in d minor, Op.61 [18:56]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Dix Pièces pour orgue: Toccata [2:53]
David M Patrick (Van den Heuvel organ, Katarina Kyrka, Stockholm)
rec. 10-12 July 2002, and 20 July 2001, Katarina Kyrka, Stockholm. DDD.
Organ specification included.
GUILD GMCD7802 [74:40]

The only mystery about this CD is why we have had to wait so long for it: the recording was made in 2001 and 2002 and it hasn’t been around before in another guise, to the best of my knowledge. John France reviewed David Patrick’s programme of French and Belgian organ music for Guild very favourably (GMCD7801). Reviewed as recently as February 2018, that release followed fairly hard on the heels of the recordings including on it, whereas the music on the new release has been in the ‘can’ for 16 or 17 years.

Did Guild think that the programme wouldn’t be popular enough? Alexandre Guilmant is not exactly as well known as Vierne and Widor, but there are complete 3-CD recordings of his organ sonatas from Brilliant Classics (Adriano Falcioni 94227, super-budget-price) and on MDG (Ben van Oosten MDG3160340), while Sonata No.7 with a selection of shorter pieces features on Ricercar (Joris Verdin RIC267). And that seems to be the sum total of the competition.

I see that, in reviewing a Talent recording of French organ music containing Guilmant’s Sonata No.1 (DOM 2910 108), I managed to say almost nothing about the music or the composer – I was too busy pondering why a brass quintet had been brought in to accompany the organ! Not surprisingly, that recording seems to have disappeared without trace, even as a download or streamed version. No such problem with the new Guild recording, which I was able to enjoy without feeling perpexed.

Guilmant’s Sonata No.7 is a lengthy work containing very varied movements: some of these could easily have featured on one of Christopher Herrick’s Organ Fireworks Hyperion CDs – his Symphony No.1 is on CDA67758 – from, CD or download – and the second movement of Sonata No.7 (appropriately entitled Rêve on Hyperion) features on his Ripon Cathedral album of Organ Dreams Volume 2 (Hyperion CDA67146 – from, CD or download).

Herrick gives that movement more time to breathe than Patrick and the result is even more magical; I marginally prefer it, but in a sense that’s irrelevant to an overview of the complete sonata and Patrick’s reading as a whole is about as good as it gets. Actually, I have some reservations about Herrick’s recording in that a whole 73 minutes of dream-like music, however beautifully played, however well suited to the Ripon organ, and however much variation there is within the format, does lack variety. I haven’t actually done it, but downloaders could mix and match the tracks of this album with one of Herrick’s Organ Fireworks CDs for variety. (If you do it, be very careful about re-numbering the tracks and back everything up first.)  On the other hand, Organ Dreams 2 is very valuable for containing Elgar’s complete set of Vesper Voluntaries.

If you are not looking for one of the complete recordings of Vierne’s Pièces de fantaisie, 24 in all, the four recorded here will do nicely; you may already have the most famous of the set, the Carillon de Westminster, so its omission here is no great matter. If not, Simon Preston on DG Originals 4791926 (with Widor Organ Symphony No.5 and Reubke Sonata on Psalm 94) would be a good place to go. Alternatively, there’s Christopher Herrick, again on an Organ Fireworks album (Volume XII, CDA67612 – review). Apart from the Toccata, the pieces chosen on Guild are reflective, Étoile du soir almost mystic in quality, a feature well brought out in Patrick’s idiomatic performance.

Guilmant’s Sonata No.4 is shorter and less varied than No.7 but it’s an enjoyable work which deserves to be played and recorded more often, and it, too, receives a fine and idiomatic performance. The only other recording seems to be on the 3-CD Brilliant Classics set and on a couple of download-only offerings.

The short Gigout Toccata rounds off an attractive, well played and well recorded recital. Gigout is another composer whose work I know only en passant, so the Priory series of his complete organ works looks like a good place to investigate further.

An important point in favour of the Guild recording is the inclusion not only of the organ specification but also some detailed and informative notes about the music. All that’s missing is the chosen registration for each piece. One might expect that a Swedish organ would be inappropriate for this French music, but the manuals and stops all have French names and, indeed, it transpires that this instrument, built in 2000, owes much to the Cavaillé-Coll style, albeit housed in a copy of the baroque case illustrated in the booklet, a fact oddly not mentioned in the notes.

Even if the competition were thicker on the ground, this Guild recording would be well worth considering. It certainly helped convince me that Guilmant’s music doesn’t deserve its comparative neglect. As I conclude this review, I’m listening to and enjoying Christopher Herrick’s recording of his Grand chœur triumphal, Op.47/2, and Marche sur un theme de Hændel, Op.15/2, on Organ Fireworks I (CDA66121 – from, CD from Archive Service or download, with pdf booklet, for £6.99).

The Choral et fugue finale of Guilmant's Symphony No.5 and Gigout’s Grand chœur dialogué are included on Organ Fireworks XI (CDA67577 – from, CD or download with pdf booklet). Either, or both, of those could be your next stop after the new Guild release has convinced you of the value of Guilmant and Gigout; if you like French organ music, I’m sure that it will.  Did I mention how much more wonderful and varied music is also included on those Herrick recordings?

Brian Wilson

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