, 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.