Widor: Organ Symphony No. 2; Organ Symphony No. 8

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WORKS: Organ Symphony No. 2; Organ Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Hans Fagius (organ)
After years of being mainly an organists’ preserve, and known to a wider public solely by the famous Toccata from the Fifth Symphony, Widor’s critical stock as an all-round musician and solidly gifted composer is definitely on the rise. The process can only be enhanced by performances as committed as those of Hans Fagius. This disc is an eloquent demonstration of the sheer range of invention and expression which Widor was prepared to publish under the rubric of ‘Organ Symphony’. Neither work, it has to be said, has much to do with the church except as a performing venue and acoustical space. Both are in six movements – but whereas No. 2 is indeed suite-like, almost a sequence of salon pieces, the huge No. 8 is a really imposing construction of truly symphonic architecture: Fagius is not wrong to term it Brucknerian. With its thrusting opening Allegro, brilliant canonic scherzo, inventive variation movement and profound Adagio, this of all Widor’s organ symphonies is the one which most suggests genuinely orchestral invention, while taxing the performer to the limit. Fagius’s enthusiasm for the music – he regards No. 8 as Widor’s masterpiece – shines through these stunning accounts: the Kallio organ in Helsinki was specifically designed for this kind of repertoire and the textural clarity of BIS’s recording is highly impressive. Calum MacDonald