Franck: Father of the Organ Symphony (DVD)

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LABELS: Fugue State Films
ALBUM TITLE: Franck: Father of the Organ Symphony
WORKS: Six Pièces; Trois Pièces ; Trois Chorals; plus three documentaries
PERFORMER: David Noël-Hudson (organ); contributors including Eric Lebrun


Organ buffs will salivate, and rightly so, but the appeal here is broader. This exquisitely produced collection of documentaries and performances comes from the same label as the Genius of Cavaillé-Coll set that won award for best documentary in the 2014 BBC Music Magazine Awards. The newcomer is similarly engaging in opening up the world of César Franck’s organ music.

The focus is on the 12 ‘great’ organ works: that is, the Six Pièces (1860-63), the Trois Pièces (1878) and the Trois Chorals (1890), performed by David Noël-Hudson on three organs chosen to reflect different stages in Cavaillé-Coll’s evolving approach to organ construction. To prepare for them, there are three substantial films and two shorter ones lasting nearly three hours. The first is an invaluable, informative and attractively shot exploration of the composer’s life and relationship with the organ from Franck biographer Eric Lebrun. Similarly, Joris Verdin’s exploration of performance practice for these pieces will draw in even those who have little intention or prospect of performing these works, as will his much shorter film Franck: L’organiste, or Harmoniumist. Admittedly Noël-Hudson’s introduction to the works requires a little stamina to find the revelatory gems amid the rather dry semi-technical exposition of themes and structures. Similarly Olivier Penin’s relatively short sequence of examples to illustrate the capabilities of the organ at St Clotilde is interesting rather than gripping.

These are minor caveats, though, for, taken together, the films provide an outstanding introduction and contextualisation for the music. With nuanced interpretations and insightful registrations, Noël-Hudson’s performances would be worth the price of the set alone. They sound wonderful on the two CDs, which contain all the works except the Final, but they are simply sensational in the glorious surround sound of the DVD.

Moreover, in addition to the added sense of atmosphere and the beautiful visuals provided for most of the pieces in the DVD performances, there are also selections from L’organiste, a series of short pieces for harmonium Franck composed from 1889, performed on organ by Jean-Pierre Griveau and on harmonium by Joris Verdin. It is hard to imagine Franck being better-served – and the good news is that a similar set devoted to Widor is imminent.


Christopher Dingle