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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Henry Fairs has twice won the Prix Maurice Duruflé at Chartres, so he is well fitted for this repertoire. He plays a restored Cavaillé-Coll organ—impressively pictured, although not described here. It can be heard at its most spectacular in the Toccata from the Suite, Op. 5, but its colour palette is impressive and is well handed by Fairs. Fairs is very well recorded and this Naxos CD is well worth its modest cost.



Metz
American Record Guide, October 2007

Fairs is Organist at the University of Birmingham and tutor at the Birmingham Conservatory. His teachers include Thierry Mechler, David Sanger, and Susan Landale. The program was recorded on the 3-72 Cavaille-Coll/ Debierre (1885/1938) in Notre-Dame d'Auteuil, where Frederic Blanc is organist. The instrument is gorgeous, likened by some to the one in St Antoine-des-Quinze Vingts or La Trinite. The performer is new to me, and I am delighted to make his acquaintance.

An analysis of each piece is needless here, for Fairs offers interpretations as satisfying and aesthetically appropriate as any other available. His program includes two short pieces often missing in other recordings: 'Hommage a Jean Gallon' and the 'Meditation' (Opus posth.). The former is found in the 64 Devoirs d'harmonie, a collection of tribute pieces by former pupils of Gallon, while the Meditation was done in 1964 and used later in the composer's Cum Jubilo Mass. Neither is sufficiently expansive to compete for the listener's attention, though they are nicely crafted and quite gentle.

Fairs emerges as a top-notch performer. His registrations, tempos, and sensitivity to subtle nuances in phrasing and articulation are superb. I would place this recording with Leonardy at St Eustache (July / Aug 2000), Patrick (Sept/Oct 1997), Wilson (Delos 3047), and Pincemaille (Motette 12541). I hope Fairs will record more for Naxos. This is an outstanding release.



Max Kenworthy
MusicWeb International, July 2007

There is a handful of recordings of Duruflé’s complete organ works. The market is not inundated with them for the simple reason that much of the music is so fiendishly difficult. It takes a brave person to tackle these works, let alone record them. Henry Fairs has taken on the challenge and succeeded superbly, even though his playing doesn’t quite have the same flair and excitement as the John Scott/St. Paul’s recording.

Without an enormous acoustic to contend with, the clarity of Duruflé’s complex, fastidious writing can be heard clearly in this recording thanks to the recording engineer’s microphone placement. It’s also testimony to Fairs’ articulate playing; this repertoire requires buckets of technique. Organs in echo-plagued buildings are not the easiest instruments to record well. Here the sound of this magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ has been captured beautifully. That said, the ambience of a larger building in other recordings gives the listener the greater sense of gravitas that this music commands.

The order in which to place these works on a recording poses a curious dilemma. There is really no obvious sequence apart from doing them chronologically. I think the order here works well. It’s a pity though that the mutation stop used at the opening of the first track is so hideously out of tune; it detracts from the enjoyment like a poke in the eye.

In some of the quieter sections and in pauses, the action of the organ and stop-changes are very audible, as if the janitor has stumbled in to do a spot of cleaning; nothing terribly untoward though. On the contrary, it adds an element of reality, giving the performance a more spontaneous, ‘live’ feel which I applaud.

The organ itself is a splendid instrument for such a recording. The lovely warm sonorities of the Cavaillé-Coll craftsmanship are showcased throughout, but really shine in the Prélude of Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le theme du ‘Veni Creator’, Op. 4 demonstrating the beautifully voiced flutes and soft reed stops, not to mention the luscious strings. The rousing finish to the variations is extremely exciting.

What a fantastic piece the Scherzo is. Duruflé’s softer pieces really can be as gripping to the listener as the big crash-bang-wallop showpieces, particularly when played with the sort of effervescence and verve Fairs shows here. Alternating between slow interludes and rocket-speed acrobatic passages this little gem is a highlight of the disc.

Duruflé was very fond of using triplet figures in order to create a sense of forward momentum - two of the Préludes and the Sicilienne for example - and this direction is achieved to perfection in the Prélude sur le nom d’Alain; such tremendous drive and excitement which for a movement that doesn’t exceed mezzo-piano indicates a genuine sense of energy. The fugue that follows is a little on the leisurely side and doesn’t quite have the same drive as the Prélude. Indeed a number of the tracks are significantly slower than other recordings but not damagingly so.

The delightful Méditation - omitted from some recordings because it was unknown until its publication in 2002 - and the Hommage à Jean Gallon - curiously missing from other ‘complete organ works recordings - incorporate deliciously impossible twists of harmony that only Duruflé could get away with. Thus follows the mighty Suite, Op. 5 which in my opinion, is the daddy of the lot. Sandwiched between the brooding Prélude – the musical equivalent of a rumbling volcano waiting to erupt - and erupt it does once the Toccata gets cracking – and the fiery Toccata, the Sicilienne ambles rather than lilts along. Some of the solo tunes are unfortunately slightly obscured by the accompaniment. It is, however, played with extreme dexterity. Precise and accurate playing with such zest and vitality and a perfectly paced accelerando ensures that the Toccata is the icing on the cake of an excellent recording.



John France
MusicWeb International, June 2007

"It is always difficult to decide the relative merit of a new recording added to a long list of exemplars. Paraphrasing my late father, no-one deliberately makes a bad recording of the ‘Complete Organ Works of Maurice Duruflé.’ Often decisions as to what version is ‘best’ come down to subjective opinions or even irrational preference. The present recording has, to my ear, four advantages – one the clarity of the sound is superb, secondly the playing is totally competent and convincing, thirdly the organ used is a Caviallé-Coll and lastly it is a well-presented CD at only £5.99. But the bottom line is that enthusiasts of Duruflé’s music will insist on having at least half a dozen different recordings. The present disc would make an ideal first instalment to that collection!"



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2007

Maurice Durufle was one of the leading organists of the 20th century, though he was so critical of his own compositions that this disc contains his total output for the instrument. Though there is the stylistic input of the French Impressionists - Ravel and Debussy with a little Vierne in his organ mode - it is still a very personal voice changing very quickly from introspective quietness to outgoing full-blown impact. Often descriptive of the name given to the piece, the opening track probably has a touch of humour as the bells of the Cathedral at Soissons must have often interrupted his many recording sessions there. The disc ends with a virtuoso Toccata in the shape of a wild Spanish dance and gives Henry Fairs a chance to show his agility and the vast array of sonorities of the Aristide Cavaille-Coll organ in the Notre-Dame d'Auteuil, Paris. Fairs, who is the organist at the University of Birmingham in the UK is a Durufle specialist having twice received the Prix Maurice Durufle in Chartres, and it really does show in the way he understands and shapes each score. The engineer has found a well nigh perfect sound creating a nice cathedral acoustic though keeping it quite tight and focused. Try track 13 for a brilliant display, though my favourite comes in the reflective Meditation.






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