PHI CD 218: French Organ Music from Chester Cathedral
Philip Rushforth - organ
(Op 32) Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937)
 Prélude  Allegro  Menuet  Romance  Final
 Arabesque (24 Pièces en style libre) (Op 31) Louis Vierne
Symphonie-Passion (Op 23)
Marcel Dupré (1886 - 1971)
 Le Monde dans l'attente du Sauveur  Nativité  Crucifixion
TOTAL PLAYING TIME: 68.50
Recorded on the evenings of 23 &
24 October 2006 at Chester Cathedral.
Console assistant: Ian Roberts. Recording sessions produced by Roger Fisher.
Recorded & produced by Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings.
Philip Rushforth and Amphion Recordings wish to thank the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral, and the administrative staff and vergers, for their unstinting support and help which ensured that the recording sessions were a pleasure for us all; David Wells Organ Builders of Liverpool for their care in ensuring that the organ was in the best possible condition for these recordings; David Sanger for his advice on the score of Vierne's Fourth Symphony; John Naylor and the Falcon Inn at Hinstock.
Philip Rushforth would also like to thank his wife, Louise, for her endless support and encouragement.
Philip Rushforth began his musical training as a chorister at Chester Cathedral where he began learning the organ with the Cathedral Organist, Roger Fisher. In 1991 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, as Organ Scholar under Dr Richard Marlow. At Trinity he broadcast and recorded frequently with the world famous college choir, and toured with them extensively in Europe, Canada and the USA. Organ studies continued with David Sanger.
Graduating in 1994, he took up the post of Assistant Organist at Southwell Minster and became the first director of the Southwell Minster Chorale. For eight years he directed the choir in Southwell and further afield.
Active as a recitalist, he has performed throughout the country and at many cathedrals and concert halls, including Westminster Cathedral, St Paul's Cathedral, and King's College, Cambridge. In September 2000 he was a finalist in the prestigious Royal College of Organists' Performer of the Year Award, performing the Poulenc Organ Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. He won many recital awards, including performing at St John's, Smith Square and at the Dublin International Organ and Choral Festival. Invitations to Italy have seen him perform in two International Organ Festivals in Cantu and Senigallia.
In September 2002 he returned to Chester Cathedral as Assistant Director of Music. He works closely with the cathedral choirs and, in addition to the daily worship of the cathedral, regularly directs them in concert, on CD, Radio 3 and Radio 4's Daily Service. He also organises the weekly organ recital series at the cathedral, performing regularly as a recitalist. He is in constant demand as an accompanist and soloist, both on organ and piano, performing with the Chester Music Society and Chester Bach Choir, and has appeared in the Chester Summer Music Festival and International Church Music Festival.
This is his first recording for AMPHION having previously recorded works by Hovland, Lemare, Swayne, Vierne, and Whitlock for the OxRecs label.
As with so many of the famous Parisian organists, Louis Vierne and Marcel Dupré are inextricably linked. César Franck (1822 - 1890), with whom the renaissance of French organ music began, and the first composer to utilize the potentials of the symphonic organ, taught Vierne at the Paris Conservatoire, albeit for just a few months. Charles-Marie Widor (1844 - 1937) took over as teacher and also taught Dupré. In turn, Dupré became Vierne's pupil.
Vierne was born in Poitiers in 1870. He was partially blind from birth, and completely so towards the end of his life. In 1892 he became Widor's assistant at Saint-Sulpice, Paris, and in 1900 he became Organiste Titulaire of Notre-Dame, a post that he held until his death, on the organ bench, in 1937. In 1906 an accident in a Paris street led to a lengthy period of unhappiness. His marriage was annulled in 1909 and his youngest son became ill, dying four years later. His mother and his friend, Alexandre Guilmant, died in 1911.
The Fourth Symphony in G minor is dedicated to the American organist William C. Carl and dates from this difficult period in Vierne's life. Begun in 1914, the Great War had just erupted. (In those early years of the war he was to lose both his brother Réné and another son, Jacques). An ominous repeated G begins the Prélude and an austere theme [A] containing four pairs of chromatic notes, two ascending and two descending, is heard containing material which underlines the whole work. Twice, a more calming theme [B] announced on the Swell Trompette, interrupts the restless chromatic theme. The following Allegro, strong and confident in mood, is based on the Trompette theme [B]. A fugal passage is heard built from the theme and it is also heard in inversion. A triumphant passage, with arch-like phrases, concludes the movement in a blazing G major.
The Menuet is far removed from the horrors of war and uses entirely new material. A charming theme heard on the Hautbois (in the remote key of E major) leads to the trio section, where again the Trompette is heard. As expected, the graceful Menuet returns after the trio.
The haunting atmosphere of the Prélude and its main theme [A] interrupts the beautiful and tender melody heard at the outset of the Romance. After this recollection of the turbulent times through which Vierne was living, the mood of the Romance returns in the tonic key of D flat. The sustained pedal notes and rippling left hand give a luminous quality to the serene ending.
In the Final we return to intense rhythmic and harmonic drive as themes [A] and [B], mirroring the first movement, are combined in an exciting Allegro. The original theme ends the movement, but as a series of slow chords, followed by four repeated chords of G major, echoing the opening bars of the first movement.
The 24 Pièces en style libre also date from 1914. Although Vierne envisaged that they be played at the Offertory during Mass, so varied are they in style that Vierne obviously intended them for non-liturgical use as well. The Arabesque (No 15) is one of the most interesting from a stylistic point of view. The florid melody, heard above a static harmonic accompaniment, is full of unexpected melodic intervals reminiscent of Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937, nearly an exact contemporary of Vierne) and a foretaste, perhaps, of some passages in Olivier Messiaen's (1908 - 1992) organ music. After a more chordal central section, complete with faint echoes of the melody, there is a return of the opening. The sublime ending is full of repose, but is, however, not resolved.
Marcel Dupré (1886 1971), born in Rouen, heard Widor play when he was just four years old, vowing then to become an organist and many years later succeeded him as organist of Saint-Sulpice in 1934. Dupré became well known in Britain during the first-world war when, during a four year absence by Vierne, he was acting organist at Notre-Dame, Paris. Thereafter, his life was spent in teaching (he was Organ Professor at the Conservatoire in Paris, and eventually its Director) and recital tours. His first recital in Britain was given at the Royal Albert Hall in 1920, and he came to play in Chester Cathedral on two occasions in 1922, when the cathedral was seen to be 'thronged from end to end' with spectators.
In December 1921 an improvisation given by Dupré on the six manual organ in the Wanamaker store in Philadelphia saw the birth of the Symphonie-Passion. Having been offered several plainsong melodies, he decided to improvise an organ symphony of four movements depicting the life of Jesus Christ; 'The world awaiting the saviour', 'Nativity', 'Crucifixion' and 'Resurrection'. The improvisation was greeted with such acclaim that he undertook to write the work down, but it was not until October 1924 that the work was heard again in Westminster Cathedral. Understandably, Dupré admitted that the improvisation and final version of the symphony were different. For example, speaking to Jeanne Demessieux in reference to the first movement, he said that the essence of the earlier improvisation was there, but that the end was different.
'Le monde dans l'attente du Sauveur' portrays a world of restless souls awaiting the birth of the Saviour, but gives way to the Christmas Hymn Jesu Redemptor omnium as a second subject. The opening music returns, and after an enormous crescendo, we again hear the plainsong, this time in canon between the treble and bass and ending in a series of massive chords.
'Nativité' opens with a lullaby, the Virgin rocking her child, oriental in flavour, leading to a March of the Shepherds to Bethlehem. Finally, Adeste fidelis is presented before two distant angelic Alleluias complete the movement.
The halting steps of Jesus Christ are harrowingly portrayed in 'Crucifixion', depicting the agony of his suffering. With the use of ostinato rhythms throughout, the procession to Golgotha culminates with the three nails being hammered in and the Cross hauled upright in some of the most shattering music in the organ repertoire. Descending chords, successively softer, ending with a single soft pedal note, represent Christ's death. The closing Stabat Mater dolorosa illustrates 'the bleak, frozen image of the sorrowing mother', as described by Olivier Messiaen.
'Résurrection', a vast crescendo, is based on the Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote. A gentle beginning builds to the harrowing of Hell, after which a powerful toccata is heard, the plainsong resounding in canon between treble and bass, until a huge chordal climax concludes the symphony.
© Philip Rushforth, 2007