Master of the Organ Symphony, a documentary on Widor’s organ works

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COMPOSERS: Charles-Marie Widor
LABELS: Fugue State Films
WORKS: Master of the Organ Symphony: Organ Symphonies Nos 5 & 6; documentary on Widor’s organ works
PERFORMER: Presented by organist Gerard Brooks with Daniel Roth (organ), John Near and Anne-Isabelle de Parcevaux (biographers)
CATALOGUE NO: Fugue State Films FSFDVD010


This is the third instalment of Fugue State Films’s survey of the 19th-century French organ scene which has so far looked at pioneering organ builder Cavaillé-Coll (winning a BBC Music Magazine Award in 2014) and the first composer to write symphonically for the organ, César Franck. It makes sense that Charles-Marie Widor should be next, a composer who did more than anyone to bring out the orchestral qualities of Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments with his wide-ranging, virtuosic symphonies. It’s a very generous production – two DVDs contain a two-and-a-half hour documentary and full performances on important organs, including the one Widor composed much of his music for, the five-manual behemoth in Paris’s St Sulpice. And two CDs offer a chance to hear the music unencumbered by the pictures.

The documentary, a solid if slightly dry guide to the composer, is presented by organist Gerard Brooks seated at one of the United Kingdom’s only surviving Cavaillé-Colls, in St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, with most of the history and analysis provided by two of Widor’s biographers John Near and Anne-Isabelle de Parcevaux. The most entertaining contributions,  however, come from St Sulpice’s current organist, Daniel Roth, whose insights, enthusiasm and performances of the music are a joy to watch.

It’s the performances on the second DVD by Brooks and Roth that make this package so attractive, however – to witness the organs of St Ouen, Rouen, Sainte-Croix, Orléans and St Sulpice, Paris put through their paces with such fine filming and in majestic 5.1 surround sound, is a treat. It’s just a shame there isn’t a performance of the final movement of Symphony No. 8 which Near compares to Bach’s Passacaglia and the fourth movement of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4. An intriguing claim.


Oliver Condy