Alain: Complete organ works

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WORKS: Complete organ works
PERFORMER: Lars Notto Birkeland (organ)

One of the most original French composers of his generation, Jehan Alain had hardly begun to fulfil his potential when he was killed in action in World War II aged 29. He left a fascinating body of work that – organ music apart – remains largely unknown, and perhaps the centenary of his birth this year will prompt further exploration of his oeuvre.
Lars Notto Birkeland’s survey is more comprehensive than most and includes several rarely heard little pieces. But he opens with the best-known of all his works, Litanies, in a disciplined performance that shows him to be an elegant player with secure technique. If he is also too matter-of-fact here, Birkeland shows a sense of freedom in the Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin. Highlights include the searing Deux fantaisies and (Alain’s masterpiece) the symphonic Trois danses. Even though a more snarling French instrument might be desirable, the organ in Oslo’s Fagerborg Church has a crispness that suits this music well. John Allison