Marie-Claire Alain

Great Toccatas

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Throughout her distinguished career, Marie-Claire Alain has performed with virtuosity and taste, balancing the organ's gaudier aspects with subtlety and scholarly insights. These performances demonstrate her bravura playing, but her carefully chosen registrations and aversion to excessive effects make these toccatas clean and relatively free of bombast. Alain takes Bach's celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor at a brisk clip, letting the music's inherent drama unfold without exaggerated pauses. Widor's equally familiar toccata receives an energetic reading, though its knuckle-busting ostinati and staccato chords cause Alain a few moments of hesitancy. The toccatas by Dubois and Gigout are minor but entertaining pieces. Boëllmann's Suite Gothique is massive and Alain's control is put to good use because this heavy-handed music would become bloated without her restraint. However, Guilmant's Finale to his Sonata No. 1 defies her attempts at moderation and is romantically grandiose. Vierne's evocative "Carillon de Westminster" and Toccata in B minor are in the same vein, though they are less ostentatious. Albert Alain's Toccata on Cantemus Domino is a lyrical setting of the chant and surprisingly subdued for a showpiece. Saved for an overpowering conclusion is Jehan Alain's ecstatic Litanies, always a breathtaking experience in his sister's faithful performances.

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