Alain; Durufle

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Alain; Durufle
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Alain & Durufle organ recital
WORKS: Trois danses; Aria; Deux danses à Agni Yavishta; Le jardin suspendu; Variations sur l’hymne ‘Lucis creator’; Litanies; Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain, Op. 7; Danse lente, Op. 6 (transcr. Whitehead)
PERFORMER: William Whitehead (organ)
An opportunity to play the Oberthür organ of Auxerre Cathedral, which has one of its four manuals devoted entirely to a battery of reeds en chamade, inspired William Whitehead to build this absorbing collection, entitled ‘Dances of Life and Death’, round Jehan Alain’s undisputed masterpiece, Trois danses. In Whitehead’s words, the music is allowed ‘a spacious rhetoric which has not always been heard before.’ No one, surely, would disagree with the result: the organ’s idiomatic sounds, with those paint-blistering reeds and swooning strings, are faithfully captured by the Chandos engineers, and make for riveting listening from first to last. If the essence of Alain’s obsessive music is rhythmic vitality, novel chord progressions, magical sounds and religious incantation, Whitehead distils it even further by highlighting the seam of dance which runs through the output; and Alain’s dance moods run the gamut from sensuous and lyrical to disturbing and baleful as, notably in Trois danses, the life-force enters into a veritable struggle with death.


A pleasing novelty, lining up with the CD’s theme, is Whitehead’s own arrangement of the second of Duruflé’s orchestral Three Dances, Op. 6. Slowly, the word is getting out that Alain’s mercurial genius deserves the attention of music lovers beyond the world of the organ aficionado – Whitehead’s compelling playing represents advocacy of a high order. Graeme Kay