Midnight at St Etienne du Mont
Briggs: Le tombeau de Duruflé; Duruflé: Suite Op. 5; Tournemire: Improvisation sur le Te Deum (arr. Duruflé); Vierne: Suite No. 3, Op. 54 – IV: ‘Fantômes’; Symphonie No. 5 in A minor, Op. 47 – V: Final; Symphonie No. 6, Op. 59 – III: Scherzo
Joseph Nolan (organ)
I continue to be puzzled by Louis Vierne. There are his songs, many of them elegant with imaginative but logical harmonies, there is his magnificent Piano Quintet, dedicated to the memory of his son killed in the First World War at the age of 17… and then there are his organ works. I get the impression that much of these – and certainly the three pieces included here – stem from a different part of his brain: one that evades anything too comfortable to the ear, that is driven largely by his virtuosic fingers, and that delights in chromatic complexity for its own sake (one 12-bar passage from the Fifth Symphony Finale contains no fewer than 215 accidentals). I do find all three pieces hard going and some louder moments are just a jumble.
Duruflé’s transcription from a disc of Tournemire improvising on the plainsong Te Deum offers more acceptable fare, if nothing startling, while David Briggs’s memorial to Duruflé is nicely put together and allows Joseph Nolan to find some attractive sounds; but I should point out that the tune of ‘Adeste fideles’ (and not ‘fidelis’ as printed here) is thought to derive from the 17th century at the earliest and is nothing to do with plainsong. Duruflé’s Suite is by some way the best work on the disc and, although the composer came to dislike the final ‘Toccata’ (even his wife wasn’t allowed to practise it in his hearing), Nolan brings it off with all the virtuosity and verve one could ask for.