SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Fantaisie Triomphale” – French Symphony Organ Works with Orchestra – Ian Tracey, organ/BBC Philharmonic/Gamba – Chandos

Some French composers saw the possibilities of combining their new concert grand organs with the symphony orchestra for an even bigger and more impressive panoply of sound.

Published on November 3, 2007

“Fantaisie Triomphale” – French Symphony Organ Works with Orchestra – Ian Tracey, organ/BBC Philharmonic/Gamba – Chandos
“Fantaisie Triomphale” – French Symphonic Organ Works with Orchestra – GIGOUT: Grand choeur dialogue; SAINT-SAENS: Cypres et lauriers; GOUNOD: Fantasy on the Russian National Hymn; DUPRE: Cortege et Litanie; GUILMANT: Allegro, Mediation on the Stabat mater, Final in the style of Schumann on a Languedoc Noel, March-fantasy on two church chants; DUBOIS: Fantaisie triomphale – Ian Tracey, organ/ BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – Chandos Multichannel SACD CHSA 5048, 72:04 ****:

Franck proclaimed that the pipe organ was his orchestra, and the French Organ School expanded the capabilities of the instrument along with a new style of composition – the organ symphony.  However, some French composers saw the possibilities of combining their new concert grand organs with the symphony orchestra for an even bigger and more impressive panoply of sound.  These were a far cry from the modest little concertos for organ and chamber orchestra of Mozart and Handel.  They literally pulled out all the stops, and this disc samples some of the exciting repertory.

All were written for the combination of pipe organ and orchestra except the opening Gigout work, which was transcribed from a solo organ original by Guy Ropartz.  The Dupre Cortege and Litany may be the most familiar of the pieces here – usually heard in its solo organ version.  The 16-minute Saint-Saens work shows his orchestration skills.  It is just part of his huge output; Wagner had called him the greatest living French composer.  The title number by Dubois brings the recital to a close with a flourish and a half.  It was written for the dedication of a 7000-pipe organ in Chicago’s Auditorium in 1899 and made use of all sorts on new registrations and voicings, including chimes which are transferred here to the bells in the orchestra.

All the selections abound in the unique showy French style of triumphant music, the expression in sound of the concept of “La Gloire.”  These works served a similar function to the showoff liturgical works created in Venice centuries earlier. There’s lots of brass, thrilling climaxes of sound and a strong spatial element.  Recorded in Liverpool Cathedral – which has a giant organ of the French School – the reverberation seems to be six or seven seconds.  This results in a rather rumbly and distant organ sound that even the five channel pickup seems to have some trouble reproducing.  I was feeling this was the perfect material for a periphonic recording – one including one or more vertical mikes and speakers in playback.  DMP and Telarc experimented with this early in the SACD era. That might have clarified the tremendous organ and orchestral sonorities going on here.  Another approach would have been binaural. I have found binaural CDs of pipe organs on headphones to be the most realistic portrayal of the instrument possible.

 - John Sunier




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