Widor: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6

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COMPOSERS: Widor
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Ben van Oosten (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 316 0403-2 DDD
Until recently, Widor has received short shrift from record companies, with Symphonies Nos 4-6 limiting the extent to which most will stray. Certainly, the inspiration burns most brightly and consistently in these symphonies, but I think there is much to explore and enjoy throughout the rest of the cycle.

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Ben van Oosten’s survey of the complete organ works has arrived at two of the most powerful and integrated symphonies, Nos 5 and 6, and he gives riveting performances of both on the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Ouen in Rouen. He is blessed with a fabulous technique which serves him well in matters of articulation and sustained musical flow. Sample the Intermezzo of No. 6 to hear the energy he generates from the quaver patterns which pass across the hands.

He is also a master of characterisation, the grand gestures of the opening of the Sixth Symphony as eloquently defined as the calmer pulse of the Adagio from the Fifth. Lovely playing and well recorded.

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The five-manual van den Heuvel organ at St Eustache in Paris provides the setting for Jane Parker-Smith’s new release, and although there is plenty here to admire, especially a thrilling opening movement to the Fifth Symphony, her choice of speeds often undermines the strength of the music. The famous Toccata is surely taken at too dizzy a speed. The recording also suffers from a rather unfocused pedal line.