The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Cavaillé-Coll
LABELS: Fugue State Films
ALBUM TITLE: The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll
WORKS: The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll
PERFORMER: Cavaillé-Coll


The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll is a seriously large undertaking. Comprising three DVDs and two CDs, no energy – or indeed expense, one suspects – has been spared in telling the story of one of the greatest organ builders ever to have lived: the 19th-century Frenchman Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The first DVD is dedicated to a three-part documentary, engagingly presented by British organist Gerard Brooks, that explains how one man put French organ music back on the map by creating organs of an orchestral nature and attracting the composing talents of such great names as Widor, Franck and Alexandre Guilmant.

The key to this documentary is its deft mix of the musical with the technical. Of course, no Cavaillé-Coll history is complete without one or two demonstrations of, say, the ‘Barker-lever’ pneumatic keyboard action that enabled the organist to play ever bigger and louder organs; and of the brand new ‘ventil’ system that gave players for the first time the ability to prepare and engage sets of stops. (And hats off to Kurt Lueders and Ronald Ebrecht, the captivating ‘talking head’ experts who provide the historical nuts and bolts.) But the crowning glories of this film are the musical performances and demonstrations – in spine-tingling 5.1 surround sound – that illustrate the development of Cavaillé-Coll’s organs from post-Classical experiments to full-on Romantic vehicles for Widor and Vierne’s mighty symphonies. And only the best players too: Olivier Latry, Daniel Roth, Pierre Pincemaille and many more. Latry’s illustrative improvisation at the Notre Dame organ, incidentally, is sensational.

Performers playing and showcasing 15 Cavaillé-Coll organs form the material for the second and third DVDs (with yet more performances on the two CDs) giving the viewer unprecedented access to some of the most hallowed organ lofts in the world.


Oliver Condy