Tournemire: L’orgue mystique (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Tournemire
LABELS: Priory
WORKS: L’orgue mystique (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet (organ)
Special pleading must accompany a recording of this nature. Charles Tournemire himself made it clear that L’orgue mystique, his gigantic cycle of music for the liturgical year, was destined for church use and only tangentially suitable for concerts. It follows that there must be a willing suspension of sensibility on the listener’s part, for this music lacks the multi-dimensionality that fully fledged concert music possesses. Here, one dimension (plainchant melody) takes sole control of the narrative, and the music finds itself paralysed into a pious exegesis of the chant, monotonous in its single-mindedness. These quasi-improvisations are best listened to, then, with candles on the altar and a censer smoking gently in the corner. The performance is certainly of high calibre, and there are ravishingly beautiful moments, particularly those that sound like proto-Messiaen, or Duruflé at his most sensual (in the latter bracket is the exquisite ‘Choral alleluiatique’ from the 19th Sunday after Pentecost). The recording lacks something in presence, though, as an acoustic space, La Trinité is not entirely straightforward. The Sacré-Coeur organ is toe-curlingly out of tune, too. All in all, what you might expect to hear just after midday on a Sunday in a Parisian church. William Whitehead