Notes and Editorial Reviews
Organ Concertos: No. 1 in C,
No. 2 in D,
Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in g
Georges Athanasiadès (org); Jin Wang, cond; Eurasia Sinfonietta
TUDOR 7165 (70:35)
What a delightfully wicked idea—unique too, as far as I can tell—to pair off two of Haydn’s fairly well-behaved Classical organ concertos with
the delectably saucy, irreverent Bacchanal that is Poulenc’s cheeky send-up of just about every concerted organ work written up to its time.
Of the two Haydn concertos on this disc, the one in D-Major is not specifically designated a concerto for organ, but rather for keyboard, which can alternately be played on harpsichord, organ, or piano. But for a couple of exceptions—the D-Major Cello Concerto and the E?-Major Trumpet Concert—Haydn’s concertos, unlike his symphonies, string quartets, piano trios, and piano sonatas have never quite gained a foothold in the mainstream repertoire. Listening to these two fine examples, it’s hard to understand why. The D-Major, in particular, is a real gem, one I was not previously familiar with. Its Adagio molto movement is extraordinary in its astonishing harmonic twists and turns, some of which even presage a progression or two in the Poulenc. And the finale could serve as the best merry-go-round music ever written.
The G-Minor Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani, completed in 1938 after a lengthy gestation, is one of Poulenc’s greatest works and an undisputed masterpiece in its genre. Few composers escape Poulenc’s impish wit and the impudent tongue-in-cheekiness of this voluptuously melodic work. I found it irresistible the first time I heard it in the now classic performance by E. Power Biggs, Eugene Ormandy, and the Philadelphia Orchestra on a Columbia LP. I seem to recall that this recording was transferred to CD; but if so, it must have dropped out of existence. For all the 30-plus recordings of the piece, including another highly regarded classic with Georges Prêtre leading the French National Radio and Television Orchestra with organist Maurice Duruflé on Angel/EMI, Poulenc’s Concerto has been a difficult work to capture really well on disc. Those that aim for the big blockbuster effect—and that would include the Ondine with organist Olivier Latry, Christoph Eschenbach, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Telarc CD with Michael Murray, Robert Shaw, and the Atlanta Symphony—tend to miss some of the score’s subtler details; while the recordings that approach the piece as a more intimate, chamber concerto—the one with Gillian Weir, Richard Hickox, and the City of London Sinfonia on Virgin Classics, for example—tend to underplay the score’s more sumptuous passages.
Until now, I’d been hoping for but had yet to find a really ideal recording of this work, but this is it. Undoubtedly better known to organ aficionados than to the general public, Swiss born (1929) organist Georges Athanasiadès, playing the Schuke organ in Würzburg’s Neubaukirche, joins the Eurasia Sinfonietta—an ensemble I’ve never heard of and about which I know nothing—led by Jin Wang in an absolutely stunning recording of a fantastic performance. The channel separation, dynamic range, and bottomless bass are phenomenal. The presence of the timpani is palpable, so that you actually hear precise pitches. And the bite of the cello entrances is visceral. Everywhere, interpretive points are made in the orchestra that complement and highlight the solo organ part. And for once, the parodies of Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns stand out in stark relief.
My one complaint—and it’s not one I’ve had of past Tudor acquisitions—is that the booklet notes are entirely in French and German; there is not one word in English. This made it very difficult to learn anything about the Eurasia Sinfonietta, for every entry turned up by Google was in either German or Japanese. I’ve fumed over this before in reference to another record label, and I’ll say it again. If a company wants to sell its discs in the U.S. market, it needs to provide English translations of its notes. It can be argued with some legitimacy that the American education system has never placed much emphasis on the teaching of foreign languages, which admittedly is our loss. But the equally legitimate argument is that English, not French, German, or Japanese, is, and has been for some time now, the international language. Someday, it will probably be Chinese, but not today.
Buy this disc for one terrific musical and sonic experience.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor by Francis Poulenc
Georges Athanasiadès (Organ)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1938; France
Concerto for Organ no 1 in C major, H 18 no 1 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Georges Athanasiadès (Organ)
Written: ?1756; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Keyboard in D major, H 18 no 2 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Georges Athanasiadès (Organ)
Written: by 1767; Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A combination of composers that works October 18, 2013
By R Gregory C (Arlington, VA) See All My Reviews
"While this pairing of composers is not unprecedented (years back Erato did the same), it's nice to have this program. The two Haydn concertos here aren't over-familiar, and the one in C major is a real charmer. The orchestral accompaniment is suave and deferential, to the point that I felt the chirpy registration in each opening movement wasn't entirely necessary. The Poulenc concerto can be done big or small, both as to solo instrument and body of strings, and the performance here is fine example of the modest approach. The timpani doesn't jump out and yell "Boo!" as much as in other recordings, and the strings have many delectable moments, like the bouncy, Rossinian theme that sneaks in during the Andante. I'd have taken the pedal-point wind-up a bit slower, and there's one juicy chord that that my ear says is missing a pitch. I have to agree with the earlier reviewer that the sound engineering is pretty darn good."