Michelle Leclerc

Charles Tournemire: Suite de morceaux pour orgue

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Aeolus' Charles Tournemire: Suite de morceaux pour orgue is performed by French organist Michelle Leclerc on an 1868 Cavallé-Coll organ located at the San Vincente church in the Basque city of Donostia/San Sebastián, which is the capital city of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and home to the San Sebastián film festival. When this recording was made in 2001, the organ had just undergone a major restoration, which took it back to the state it was in when last rebuilt by the Cavallé-Coll firm in 1903 and adding a 32' stop. This instrument is certainly well suited to the demands of the music of Tournemire, who was organist at the Basilica of St. Clotilde in Paris for 41 years between 1898 and 1939 and playing on the same Cavallé-Coll, once the responsibility of his master César Franck.

This disc consists not of Tournemire's improvisational "mystical organ" works, but mainly of early compositions that many accounts identify as "destroyed." It starts with his Sortie pour orgue en sol, Op. 3, a typical essay in Franckian bombast dating from 1894 and continues through a number of rather short pieces dating from around 1900. Although comfortably post-Franckian in overall nature, several of these pieces do nonetheless foreshadow textures and thematic devices familiar from his "mystical" works, particularly the most extended piece on the disc, the Pièce Symphonique Op. 16 (1899), which remained a superlative piece of organ music even if Tournemire had never written another note.

The distinctive "mystical" character of Tournemire's music becomes detectable around 1908, partly prompted through the influence of his brother-in-law Joséphin "Sar" Péladan, founder of the Salon of the Rose Cross and a notorious occultist; Péladan also had a considerable influence on the young Erik Satie. While Tournemire's early, pre-Rosicrucian productions do not bear a lot in common with the work of Satie, it does share some similarity in approach to the music of his contemporary Albéric Magnard. Tournemire's early music is clear-eyed, direct, purposeful, and relatively free of both the impressionism current in his time and the flowery, highly chromatic post-romanticism that dominated the work of most other organist-composers around 1900.

The program ends on more familiar territory: two of Maurice Duruflé's transcriptions of Tournemire improvisations from phonograph records. These and the "Sortie" have been recorded numerous times, but the works between them -- 50 minutes of the disc -- seem not to have been recorded before. Michelle Leclerc, a former student of Jean Langlais and Pierre Cochereau, has just the right feel for this music; her performances are restrained, intelligent, and eloquent, reaching mostly for the spiritual stop and holding back the bombast until the music calls for it. One would like a little more low end in the recording, and this may partly be due to the instrument; this may have been an aspect of its sound that the 32' stop was added to correct. Nevertheless, Aeolus' Charles Tournemire: Suite de morceaux pour orgue does a lot to help fill in the historical gap between Tournemire the former Franck student and Tournemire the eccentric, "mystic" organist who influenced everyone in the modern French organ school. For enthusiasts of twentieth century French organ music, this is an important release.

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