CD review in the national organ journal 'Organ Australia':


L'Orgue Mystique : Charles Tournemire (1870-1939). Adrian Gunning plays the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre Dame d'Auteuil Paris. Herald CD: HAVPCD361. See the Herald Recordings website for details of availability:

The organ music of Charles Tournemire was virtually unheard anywhere in Australia 40 or 50 years ago. Leslie Curnow, the organist at the First Church of Christ Scientist in Melbourne performed some of his works here in the 1960s – a most unlikely location, and then there was the Erato/World Record Club recording by the Duruflés in the 1960s at St Etienne-du-Mont, Paris and Soissons Cathedral (these consisting of four transcriptions from gramophone recordings of Tournemire's fabulous improvisations). In the 1970s we occasionally heard the transcription of Tournemire's Victimae Paschali improvisation played, but local performances of his works have been rare. Tournemire was, of course, the successor to César Franck at St Clothilde in Paris and utilised Gregorian chant to weave these consummate works, all intended for performance in a liturgical context.

So this recording is most welcome. Adrian Gunning, one of London's most active and well-respected organists, and an acknowledged expert in the performance of plainsong-based repertoire, has chosen an 1884-85 Cavaillé-Coll in a spacious church in one of Paris's suburbs – an organ later enlarged (like Tournemire's instrument at St Clothilde) but one that matches very closely that instrument in size, sound and acoustic – it has electro-pneumatic action, thus allowing the dramatic changes in sonority required by the music.

The recording presents selections from 10 sections of L' Orgue Mystique, each relating to specific periods of the church year, starting at Quinquagesima and ending at the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. These include works with such titles as Offertoire, Communion, Choral and Toccata, each intended for a specific liturgical context. They are played with a great sense of drama, with an abundance of delightful tone colours ranging from pianissimo to stentorian fortissimos, aided by generous reverberation. In this work (according to the excellent accompanying notes) Tournemire developed a new musical language, combining the modality of mediaeval and early baroque music with the modern resources of chromaticism and polytonality. There are certainly parallels with the organ music of Olivier Messiaen. We can hear elements of serenity at times, some of cataclysmic drama, and the harmonies are sometimes challenging, sometimes exquisite.

These works on this recording demand close attention by the listener – probably the best way of hearing them is during a Mass, but clearly this recording is the only way we are likely to experience them. It gives great listening pleasure and can be enthusiastically commended, opening a new chapter in our musical experience.

John Maidment