Franck: Pièce héroïque; Three Chorals; Prélude, fugue et variation

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COMPOSERS: Franck
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Pièce héroïque; Three Chorals; Prélude, fugue et variation
PERFORMER: Catharine Crozier (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3272
In his youth, César Franck was a virtuoso pianist, and the organ music of his later years needs a pianist’s sense of phrasing and a flexible approach to rhythm and tempo. The other big factor in appreciating Franck’s organ music is the sumptuously colourful and fiery instruments of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, whose new organ at Saint-Sulpice in Paris Franck inaugurated in 1859. It is, of course, possible to play Franck on other types of organ, as long as they can match the glamorous mystery which Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments evoke from their vantage points high in the west galleries of French churches.

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Catharine Crozier plays the Marcussen organ at Wichita State University, Kansas. It has all the colours needed for Franck, but as recorded here, the building it’s in sounds dry. There is no reverberation to help Crozier float the outer sections of the Prélude, fugue et variation, as Gillian Weir does on the Frobenius organ in Aarhus Cathedral, Denmark. Weir has just the right melting quality, and is recorded with a sense of distance and atmosphere.

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For all her metronomic stiffness, Crozier’s grasp of rhythm in the Pièce héroïque is not always certain and she plods along, earthbound, while Weir gives the piece an irresistible sense of sweep. Nor does Crozier pace the first Chorale as effectively as Weir, and in the third Weir shows where Crozier fails, in shaping rapid passages with panache, and giving full value to Franck’s wide range of tempi and dynamic contrasts. No contest. Adrian Jack