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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (March 2014)

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For those unfamiliar with our monthly recordings review - If Sound Quality (SQ) and Overall Impression (OI) grades need further context, feel free to visit earlier posts in this series.

My acquisitions for March

Bach: The Art of Fugue

We began the month on PTB with the “incomplete” recording of the Art of the Fugue by Glenn Gould, and my first acquisition this month is a “complete” version for organ, arranged by Wolfgang Grasser and performed on the historic Hildebrandt organ at Naumburg (completed in 1747 and certificated by Bach himself in company with his old friend Gottfried Silbermann, the Saxon master organ builder) by Johannes Ernst Köhler. According to the Bach Cantatas website Köhler is featured playing the canons on the organ (presumably from the same performance) as part of a chamber orchestra setting of the work. The discography proposes several settings for orchestra (some arranged by the likes of Rudof Barshai) adding to the mystique about the “best setting” for the work. This version is quite satisfying, and having been oft re-issued, I guess the industry agrees. The 2-CD set filler consists of “organ concertos” by Bach, again well-suited for this great instrument. SQ = A-, OI = A.

Joseph Jongen Symphonie Concertante

A second organ disc this month is a discovery in a sense, at least for me. When we think of Belgian-French composers who dabbled with the organ, we think of Cesar Franck and neglect often his contemporary Joseph Jongen, a renowned organist and an accomplished composer in his own right. American organist Virgil Fox (who will be featured on a PTB post next month), often played the Jongen “Toccata” as a virtuoso showpiece, and it is quite catchy – not unlike Widor’s toccata from the Symphony no. 5. The toccata is, in fact, the finale from Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante for organ and orchestra, which received its (purported) world premiere recording with Fox at the helm of the Cavaille-Coll organ at the Palais de Chaillot accompanied by Georges Prêtre and the Paris Opera orchestra. This is a gem of a piece, which showcases Fox’s legendary virtuosity in a work that is tuneful, never somber or pretentious. This deserves to be heard more often! SQ = A-, OI = A.

Bruckner - Te Deum

My Lenten sacred work acquisition this month is a quite lively performance of a pair of works: Gounod’s St-Cecilia Mass and Bruckner’s Te Deum. The story goes that, as an ailing Bruckner was pressed into providing a final movement for his “unfinished” ninth symphony, he would have suggested that if conductors were so inclined, to simply use the Te Deum as a finale. My sense is that the Te Deum doesn’t quite have the same ethereal feel that the Ninth has, and that it does not match the more liturgical atmosphere the Te Deum oozes in droves. Maybe good as a Bruckner concert filler, though, showing Bruckner’s catalog has more to offer than the 11 symphonies it contains. The Gounod mass, one of my favourites, gets a spirited rendition from these Polish performers. I enjoyed this. SQ = A-, OI = A-.

Jacques Mauger : Concertos pour trombone et orchestre (Trombone Concertos)

The final two albums this month feature the trombone as the main instrument. Many brass iinstruments get regal treatment in the classical repertoire, the horn and trumpet getting their fair share of the spotlifght, but the trombone has a lot of range, and under capable hands can surprise. Our soloist here, Jacques Mauger, seems quite capable, but the four concertante pieces he’s given to render don’t seem to provide a great showcase. Some of the works have their episodes and moments, but nothing sustained. The orchestra keeps up with the soloist, who delivers good performances, but nothing really stood out here for me. I liked this, but this ain’t at the same level as the Jongen album! SQ = A-, OI = B+.


The other disc, I think, did a much better job at showcasing the potential of the instrument. Alain Trudel is more known today as a conductor, but he is a virtuoso trombonist, and has recorded a few discs in that role. In an intriguing match-up, ATMA invited another well-known conductor, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, to play the “straight man” at the piano, giving a bit of star power to this set of “conversations”. The works (presumably arranged by Trudel, though the liner notes are silent as to who is the arranger here) are best known as duos featuring other instruments (Saint-Saensswan is best known as a cello piece, the Bruch roimance for the viola, the Kreisler for the violin, etc…) but Trudel’s trombone is more than a capable replacement – it stretches the harmonic envelope of these well-known works, giving them a fresh perspective. This one is anoither nice surprise! SQ = A-, OI = A.

March 28, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Alexandre Guilmant" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel .Read more March 28 on our blogs in English and in French.