L'Orgue Mystique

Charles Tournemire (1870-1939)

Adrian Gunning plays the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre Dame d'Auteuil Paris


14. Quinquagesima V: Verriére II: Offertoire; 3. Christmas II: Offertoire (Molto Adagio); 26. The Holy Trinity V: Triptyque; 48. All Saints IV: Communion; 38. 12th Sunday after Pentecost V: Choral No.3; 4. Sunday after Christmas II: Offertoire; 1. 3rd Sunday of Advent V: Toccata; 35. The Assumption of the BVM II: Offertoire IV: Communion; 43. 16th Sunday after Pentecost V: Choral Alleluiatique No.1; 50. IV: Communion

Tournemire succeeded César Franck as organist of Ste Clotilde and evolved an improvisatory style embodying his view of the organ as “the voice of prayer”, conjuring up Sunday by Sunday ‘magical evocations of heavenly bliss and blazing visions of glory'. When still relatively unknown as an organ composer, he began L'Orgue Mystique only twelve years before his death. Music ‘inspired by the fervour of his faith' and imbued with the ‘limpid beauty of Gregorian chant', modality, chromaticism and polytonality all play a part in conveying a new message of ‘eternal, transcendent spirituality' shortly to be adopted by his young protégé, Olivier Messiaen. The booklet notes partially quoted here strike a nice balance between the precise and the flowery abstract, in either case always bien trouvé. Les mots justes, in fact!

The 1884/5 Cavaillé-Coll organ, two manuals and 32 stops, bore many points of similarity to that in Ste Clotilde. It was enlarged by Gloton-Debierre in 1934 to three manuals and 53 stops. The last of numerous renovations was undertaken (without any alterations) in 1984. Adrian Gunning, recitalist on this his third CD of major works from this vast cycle, is known as a leading interpreter of Tournemire's music. Indeed in 1989 he made the first CD recording of his music.

These persuasive performances range from “unbridled ecstasy” at the conclusion of Verrière (stained-glass window) via piquant harmonic colouring of the mutations and transcendent spirituality in the Christmas Offertoire; grandeur and serenity – among much else – in Triptyque; infinitely mysterious stringy effects in Communion for All Saints; an Advent Toccata with a difference; right through to the unflagging inspiration of the 247th piece, another mystical Communion. It is fairly acknowledged that, especially when taken out of context, these pieces vary in interest; but there are so many entrancing, arresting and delicious ones along the way.

Michael Bell