Poulenc: Concerto For Organ; Petit: Concertino; Barber: Toccata Festiva

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It’s interesting to see even smallish labels like LINN offering a series of reissues, an indication of just how easy it has been to amass a substantial catalog of recordings. Even more intriguing is the fact that this is the normal stereo disc of these performances, and not the hybrid multi-channel SACD. Is that format heading for the Quad graveyard? It would seem so. These speculations and observations aside, this is one hell of a terrific disc. Buy this. Buy two and give one to a friend. Gillian Weir, conductor David Hill, and the English Chamber Orchestra offer the most blisteringly exciting Poulenc Organ Concerto on disc, possibly of all time. The Marcussen & Son organ at St. Augustine’s Chapel, Tonbridge School, is a powerful instrument with a lithe keyboard action, minimum mechanical noise, and crystal clear, snappy reeds that suit this work perfectly. Hill sets a dangerously fast tempo for the allegro sections. In fact, not since Munch’s RCA rendition has the adrenaline pumped so vigorously, and yet those tricky whiplash exchanges between strings and organ occur effortlessly thanks to Weir’s hair-trigger rhythmic precision. And my, how the strings dig into their parts! Linn’s stunning sonics add much to this gripping, take-no-prisoners experience. The engineers have captured both organ (check out the quiet pedals at 2:30) and orchestra with exceptional clarity and ideal balances, yet they still manage to give a good sense of the spacious chapel acoustic. In the quiet interlude following the initial allegro the sonic impression created by accurately localized strings, tracing their musical journey across a landscape of soft organ chords suffusing the entire stereo spectrum, is simply unforgettable. If you love this marvelous piece, you won’t want to miss this recording of it under any circumstances. Better still, the couplings are every bit as well done, and extremely imaginatively chosen. French critic/composer Pierre Petit’s eclectic Concertino for Organ, Strings, and Percussion takes into account several musical trends “in the air” in 1958, from the acerbic neo-classicism of late Stravinsky and Roussel to a whiff (just a whiff!) of atonality, along with some very intriguing upper-register organ sonorities. Fundamentally melodic and quite catchy rhythmically, this performance should bring Petit’s charming and effective piece to wider attention. Samuel Barber’s brilliant Toccata Festiva remains neglected because it’s practically impossible to program a 16-minute work for organ and orchestra under any normal circumstances, which is a pity because it’s a major statement by a great craftsman. Raymond Leppard ably conducts these latter two works, which are no less fabulously recorded. Any way you look at it–performance, musical interest, sonics–this is a hugely rewarding disc.-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BKD178

  • UPC: 691062017831

  • Label: Linn Records

  • Composer: Francis Poulenc, Pierre Petit, Samuel Barber

  • Conductor: David Hill, Raymond Leppard

  • Performer: Gillian Weir