Guilmant, Boellman, And Fetis


Nominated For Best Record Of The Year by Gramophone Magazine

Romantic Blockbusters
Guilmant: Symphony No. 1; Boellman and Fetis
Franz Hank organist;
Leipzig Symphony;
Olaf Koch, conductor

The revival of the French and Belgian organ school in the late 19th century encompassed a greater spread than is reflected among current record listings . . . more than the Franck, Saint-Saens, Vierne and Widor we commonly encounter. But if you think the Saint-Saens Organs Symphony is something special, you may well be amazed by this collection of seven outrageously grandiose behemoths for solo organ and grand orchestra.

Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911) has the lion's share of the recording with five compositions: Symphony No. 1, Op. 42; Allegro, Op. 83: Marche Fantasie, Op. 44: Meditation of the Stabat Mater, Op. 63, and Final all Schumann, Op. 83. One also has the Fantasie Dialoguee. Op. 35 by Leon Boellmann (1862-1887), and a three movement Fantasie Symphonique by the Belgian Francoise Fetis (1784-1871).

Unlike the famous Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, where the organ part is rather simple, all the above exist in concerto mode that feature extremely flashy organ parts. (If you know the Jongen's Sinfonia Concertante for the organ and orchestra, that offers a closer approximation.) All the music is ceremonial, combining the pomp of the Sun King's court occasions blended with the kind of thundering Romanticism of Liszt, Berloiz and Wagner at their most extreme. There's trumpets and drums galore.

Much of the result is thus a bit overwhelming. It's constantly "serious" stuff in mood, but also rather unintentionally campy by today's standards - tremendously impressive, but also sure to bring on a smile to the lips because it is justso extreme.! There are however, a few exceptions. The Pastorale, second movement of Guilmant's Symphony, is as restrained as it is beautiful. Another major pleasure is the finale (La Chasse) of Fetis' work, blazing hunting horns and all that. This last rates at least three "Tallyhos!" and a fox's tail.

But on the whole, one confronts a group of Romantic organist-compoers who took themselves very seriously indeed. Hauk, the distinguished German organist-teacher-scholar, plays the pipes of the racks on the great organ of Ingolstadt Munster. (That exceptional instrument is used for an annual organ festival.) Super playing! The orchestra plays ably, and indeed, one should cite the solo harpist as uncommonly fine. Presented in audiophile sonics, climaxes are enough to wilt a pine forest . . . as befits these wide-ranging scores. (A second such disc has already been taped for Carlton, featuring Guilmant's Second Symphony with organist Hauk.) Anyone's who's really into big Romantic gestures or organ music in general ought to adore this disc.