Widor: Organ Symphonies (complete)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Widor
LABELS: Solstice
WORKS: Organ Symphonies (complete)
PERFORMER: Pierre Pincemaille (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: SOCD 181-85
Despite the fame of the Toccata which ends Widor’s Fifth Symphony, Pierre Pincemaille’s new recording of all ten symphonies fills a gap. Widor may take the credit for creating the French organ symphony, but those by his pupil Louis Vierne seem more popular both with organists and recording companies. What makes this issue a must for organ buffs is that each one of Widor’s symphonies is recorded on an instrument by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who built the instrument at Saint-Sulpice in Paris (heard in Symphony No. 6), where Widor was organist for 64 years. Widor himself gave the first performance of No. 5 on the organ of St François-de-Sales, Lyon, and wrote his last organ symphony for St Sernin, Toulouse, both accordingly featured in those works here. Over more than 60 years, from his first important organ, at Saint-Denis, to the vast five-manual monster in the abbey of Saint-Ouen in Rouen, Cavaillé-Coll achieved a remarkably consistent character, from stops that are velvety, as in the mellow warmth of Symphony No. 5’s first movement, to the fiery reeds and whistling harmonic stops that give brilliance to the Toccata. The opening of the Gothic (No. 9) is wonderfully sombre on the organ of Saint-Ouen, but for delicacy and colour try the third movement of No. 6 (Saint-Sulpice) or the inner movements of No. 7 (Madeleine).

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It would be surprising if Pincemaille were totally beyond criticism – he sometimes phrases stiffly and the rhythms of the second and fourth movements of No. 7 are unclear – but overall he’s a strong player with lots of energy. Adrian Jack