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Tag: Louis Vierne

Organist Yuri McCoy’s Symphonic Roar: Truth in Advertising

A cynic would say that the title of organist Yuri McCoy‘s new album Symphonic Roar: An Odyssey of Sound from the Paris Conservatoire – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is redundant. After all, epic grandeur and volume are what bring out the faithful in the organ demimonde and keep them coming back. On the other hand, as explosive and adrenalizing as this album is, it’s also remarkably subtle.

McCoy discovered that he had a couple of organs in his native Houston which were especially well suited to the wide expanse of characteristically French colors in this program, a mix of popular repertoire, a dazzling rarity and a brand-new arrangement of a strange relic from the Paris Surrealist movement.

He opens on the spectacular 1997 Fisk-Rosales organ at Rice University with Jean-Louis Florentz’s showstopper La Croix Du Sud. If you’ve ever wondered what Malian psychedelic rock would sound like on a pipe organ, this is it, rising from a hypnotically assertive Tuareg riff to an increasingly wild swirl of variations meant to evoke the dizzying ecstasy of Sufi dance. Florentz was a student of Messiaen, so that influence is apparent, especially in the piece’s starriest moments; Jehan Alain is another one, along with another piece that will follow later on the program here. The frenetic polyrhythms camouflaging an anthemic, Alainesque theme early on, the sudden flares over a brooding pedal note and the series of long climbs afterward will give you goosebumps. What a way to kick off an album.

McCoy follows with an increasingly blistering, breathtakingly dynamic take of the famous allegro vivace movement from Guilmant’s Sonata No. 2. He mines burbling phantasmagoria and finds a creepy anthem in Joseph Bonnet’s brief Will O’the Wisp. Then he concocts a bracing blend of icy, wafting and majestic registrations for Saint-Saens’ Fantaisie in D Flat, rising from an unexpectedly wistful introduction, to stately, airy angst, an anthemic hymn of sorts, and back.

McCoy moves to the 2017 Nichols & Simpson organ at his home base, Houston’s South Main Baptist Church to play a particularly expansive, deep-sky take of Louis Vierne’s iconic Clair de Lune. He winds up the record with his own brand-new arrangement of Edgar Varese’s sprawling 1926 symphonic work Ameriques. Varese had left France behind for the US by then: there’s a classic European wonder at American energy and vitality here, as well as a dissociatively shifting, one might say schizophrenic expanse of remarkably forward-looking ideas that sometimes edge over into the macabre. Percussion plays every bit as much a part as the organ: Brady Spitz and his “assistants,” Colin Boothby and Grant Wareham have just as much fun with their sirens and castanets and assorted implements as McCoy has in the console.

Christopher Houlihan Salutes the 150th Birthday of an Underservedly Obscure Organ Music Icon

In the classical organ music demimonde, Louis Vierne is an iconic presence. The epic grandeur and frequent venom of his organ symphonies have seldom been matched, let alone surpassed. His life was plagued by struggle and tragedy. Born legally blind, he became an awardwinning violinist while still in his teens before switching to the king of the instruments. His wife left him for his best friend. He lost family members in World War I. After the war, he was forced to go on concert tour to raise money to repair the organ at Notre Dame in Paris, where he would remain until his death. And on his final day there, Vierne collapsed in the console and fell onto the low bass pedal. The organ rumbled louder and louder until someone finally went in to check on him and found him there dead.

Yet outside of the insular pipe organ world, Vierne is little-known…and Christopher Houlihan is determined to change that. This blog was unfortunately not there when he played the entire Vierne symphonic cycle in New York back in June of 2012, but fortunately much of that was recorded, and you can catch not only some of the highlights but also a lot of fascinating background when the organist celebrates the 150th anniversary of the troubled French composer’s birth with a series of webcasts starting this October 5.

There’s plenty of material for both general audiences and hardcore organ geeks. On October 5 at 7 PM, Houlihan interviews Phillip Truckenbrod, whose recent memoir Organists and Me covers a half century of managing some of the loudest musicians on the planet.

The next evening, October 6, Houlihan chats with the brilliant Notre Dame organist Olivier Latry about the horrific fire and ongoing reconstruction of the organ there. On October 7, Houlihan offers a demonstration of the famous Trinity College organ in Hartford Connecticut, and on October 8, he plays a deliciously dynamic program there which includes Vierne’s majestic Symphony No. 4 as well as shorter pieces ranging from his celestial Clair de Lune to the sparkling, playfully evocative Naïades. Other webcasts in the works include concert footage from Houlihan’s landmark 2012 Vierne performances as well as an interview with Vierne biographer Rollin Smith, the first American to play the Vierne symphonic cycle.

Poignant French Late Romantic Music and a Brilliant Obscurity From Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien

Today’s album is about poignancy and brooding contemplation – and is also a rare recording of a great obscurity from the French Late Romantic era. The violin-piano duo of Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien released their record of music by Eugene Ysaye, Cesar Franck, Louis Vierne and Lili Boulanger last year; it’s streaming at Spotify. There’s considerable emotional depth here.

The first piece is Ysaye’s relatively well-known, Romeo and Juliet themed Poeme Elegiaque. The two play it with straightforward restraint: they don’t languish in its lulls. Ibragimova quickly finds a clenched-teeth focus in its gritty upward climbs; likewise, Tiberghien lets the chilly desolation in his chords speak for itself, matched by the violin’s stark, midrange resonance. As the narrative hits an anguished, allusively chromatic peak midway through, the contrast is nonchalantly breathtaking.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A was a wedding present for Ysaye, one of his era’s great violinists. For whatever reason, there seems to be more wistfulness and longing than romantic joy in the swaying, spare first movement. The two approach the delicate second movement with a vivid tenderness that also seems wounded, but then the piano signals a charge upwards toward redemption. There’s considerable contrast between quiet, tense hesitancy and several “yes!”crescendos throughout the third movement, Ibragimova using a lot of shivery vibrato. Likewise, there’s unexpectedly uneasy glitter intermingled with the warmly triumphant phrasing of the conclusion.

Beyond to his virtuosity at the organ, Vierne was also an awardwinning violinist. He may be best known as a writer of turbulent, ferocious organ symphonies, but his rarely performed music for strings is sublime. Case in point: his Violin Sonata in G Minor, which the duo here leap into with a Romany-tinged, brittle, wintry attack that quickly warms and grows more expansively anthemic. So when the two return to this biting quasi-tarantella, the effect packs a punch.

The second movement follows the same trajectory as Franck’s piece: slow, with lots of expressive midrange from the violin and more of a steady nocturnal gleam. Vierne brings the tarantella back for movement three, but as more of a flamenco-tinged ballet theme.  Ibragimova and Tiberghien wind it up with serene contemplation rising in a long series of waves, and serious gravitas in the dance variations.

A rising star just over a hundred years ago among French composers, Lili Boulanger died tragically at 25; she wrote her Nocturne for Violin and Piano at 18 in 1911. It’s akin to a prelude, an inviting moonrise tableau with a wry Debussy quote at the end.