WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Ian Tracey (organ); BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9785
Charles-Marie Widor’s life (1844-1937) spanned several momentous chapters of French history, and during that time he was one of his country’s most fascinating musical characters. Though he served the Parisian church of Saint-Sulpice for an incredible 64 years, he was far from an archetypal church organist; indeed, he is reputed to have entertained society ladies in the organ loft, was immortalised in Proust’s writings, and gave Tchaikovsky such a huge meal on his visit to the city that the Russian composer wrote home to his brother about it. His treatise, Téchnique de l’orchestre moderne, influenced both Stravinsky and Ravel. The ubiquitous Toccata for which he is largely remembered today is a relatively early work, but besides all the organ symphonies he also composed chamber and orchestral music, songs, operas and ballets.
So a recording of his Third Symphony is very welcome indeed. With two movements that are really four and a spectacular organ part, it may owe something to Saint-Saëns’s Third, but it is a work of characteristic vigour and poetry, and Widor’s distinctive voice comes through in this performance. Yan Pascal Tortelier, a champion of neglected French music, cleverly adds Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911) to the mix: the Symphony No. 2 is an arrangement of his Eighth Organ Symphony, and with its scrunchy harmonies and clear forms it makes a great impact too. Ian Tracey gives a poetic account of Franck’s brooding Chorale No. 2. John Allison