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Jehan Alain: Complete Organ Works / Jean-Baptiste Robin

Alain / Robin / Alain / Leon Algazi
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94233   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin
Number of Discs: 3 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

As ever, we have here an extremely competitive box set from the Brilliant Classics label – but what’s this – a complete Jehan Alain organ works collection on three discs? Not only is this a new collection and not a re-release, there are bonus tracks and world premiere recordings to be found in this collection, as well as the only known recordings of Alain’s own organ playing. Still searching for a ‘perfect’ Jehan Alain organ collection and still slightly underwhelmed by the instrument used with Lars Notto Birkeland’s otherwise excellent Simax recording, Read more does this answer a prayer? Almost, but not quite. It seems churlish to be critical of such a gift, but there are some points which have to be made.

This is a very well recorded set, and the carefully chosen instruments used have the French character we’re looking for with this music. Jehan Alain’s most popular piece, Litanies, starts the whole thing off however and nearly has us chucking the whole thing in the bin straight away. When will people grasp the idea that fast does not necessarily mean spectacular? Yes, Jean-Baptiste Robin’s virtuoso technique is on display to a breathtaking extent, but he rushes through this piece at a pace which suggests he was desperate to leave the organ loft for a visit to the lavatory. Many of the essential driving rhythmic details are lost entirely, and if you don’t know the piece many of its secrets will remain forever hidden in the blistering rush with this version. I have a feeling he has played this piece so often that he forgets we want to hear it properly, not have it sprayed over us as if from a high-power hose. Alain himself said of this piece that the performer should “push yourself to the limit of speed and clarity”, so I suppose we have to accept that at times we will go beyond with the latter, and the ending is indeed “an irrepressible hurricane that overthrows everything in its path” from Robin, so listeners can make up their own minds, but taste respectfully dictates a more expansive view. Marie-Claire Alain’s performance on Erato is a good deal more controlled sounding, and its more measured pace allows the organ to swing through the acoustic like a Big-Band of angels.

Good, now that’s out of the way we can pick out a few highlights and be a little more positive. Jean-Baptiste Robin’s only real and only occasional weakness is perhaps most often to be picked out in the rhythmic aspects of the music. Little details are approached a little vaguely here and there throughout the collection, but the atmosphere created in Alain’s best works, like the Trois Danses, is quite everything one could wish for. On can spend many a happy hour exploring gorgeous works such as the Suite, with its tonal fields, limpid textures and powerful final Choral. Each disc is packed solid with wonderful music, and CD 2 opens with the Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin which always gives me a similar frisson to those unearthly notes you hear from natural horns. Robin is reliably moving in the shorter pieces with a devotional character, such as the Chant donné. The programming has a surfeit of ‘sundry’ pieces on this second disc, and there might profitably have been a bit of mixing up with the more extended cycles from CD 1, but this is a very minor point. Each of these works is a miniature masterpiece, and though there are arguably some tuning issues with one of the organs used these are all very well played examples.

CD 3 holds the main USP for this collection, with premiere recordings of the Variations sur un chant donné de Rimski-Korsakov and the Fugue sur un sujet de Henri Rabaud. The first of these is a set of short, sometimes even aphoristically miniature variations which the booklet notes suggest bear comparison with Marcel Dupré. There are some wonderful moments in the piece, but it doesn’t hang well together as a single unity – the sections being too diminutive to create a feeling of flow or development. According to the booklet, the Fugue was “Jehan Alain’s prize for fugue from the Conservatoire”, going some way beyond stiff academicism in a strongly expressive piece which still stays within the rules and conventions of the form. The little Canon en mode dorien pour piano et harmonium is another premiere recording, but has been transposed in key and is played on neither piano nor harmonium, so has to be docked some credits in terms of authenticity. Following a spectacular rendition of the Première Fantaisie, we are given another recording of the Deuxième Fantaisie played on the instrument at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Ohio, which provides an alternative glimpse of the music on the more rounded but fascinating and sometimes creepily scary colours of an instrument by Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960). Jehan Alain’s recording of Les Fêtes de l’année Israélite is a bit mono and distant, but aside from some gritty distortion at times actually sounds surprisingly good considering its vintage. It shows Alain as a seriously skilled performer, and not afraid of throwing in the occasional witty passing note on occasion. The Synagogue Music consists of nice arrangements of traditional Hebrew songs with organ and strings. These give us a glimpse into a world of drama and passionate expression unknown to those of us brought up with the good old Church of England. It also gives clues to the kinds of modes and melodic shapes which would have influenced Jehan Alain throughout his all too brief life.

If you shop around this release can be bought for what might be termed ‘a steal’, and to sum up, it is worth every penny even at its insubstantial full price. If you can get hold of Marie-Claire Alain’s Erato recordings these will I suspect provide a more satisfying long-term investment, but this bargain is too good to let lie. It is not only a very good place to enter the world of Jehan Alain’s organ music for the first time, but an excellent place to explore further even if you already have one or other collection.

-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin, for organ, JA 118 (AWV 99) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1937; France 
2.
Suite, for organ, JA 69-70, 82 (AWV 86) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1935; France 
3.
Prélude Profane for Organ no 2, AWV 58 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; France 
4.
Prélude Profane for Organ no 1, AWV 57 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; France 
5.
Litanies for Organ, AWV 100/Op. 79 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
6.
Le jardin suspendu for Organ, AWV 63 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
7.
Lamento, for organ, JA 14 (AWV 10) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 02/1930; France 
8.
L'oeuvre pour Piano, Volume 1: no 6, Romance by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
9.
L'oeuvre pour Piano, Volume 1: no 3, Un cercle d'argent by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
10.
Grave, for organ or piano (Trois minutes No. 3), JA 32 (AWV 36) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 08/1932; France 
11.
Fantaisie for Organ no 2, AWV 91/Op. 73 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; France 
12.
Fantaisie for Organ no 1, AWV 59/Op. 51 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
13.
Fantaisie à bouche fermée for Organ by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
14.
Danses (3) for Organ, AWV 119/Op. 81 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937-1939; France 
15.
Danses (2) à Agni Yavishta for Organ, AWV 61 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
16.
Aria for Organ, AWV 120 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; France 
17.
L’Année liturgique israélite by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938 
18.
Verset-Choral, for organ or piano, JA 6 (AWV 19) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 03/1931 
19.
Variations sur "Lucis Creator," for organ, JA 27 (AWV 29) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 01/1932; France 
20.
Postlude pour l'office de Complies for Organ, AWV 13/Op. 21 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
21.
Petite Pièce, for organ, JA 33 (AWV 37) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 12/1932; France 
22.
Monodie, for organ or piano, JA 135 (AWV 109a) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 09/08/1938; France 
23.
Intermezzo, for organ ("Fileuse"), JA 66bis (AWV 74a) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1935; France 
24.
Fugue sur un sujet de Henri Rabaud, for string quartet, JA 133b by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1933 
25.
Fugue en mode de Fa for Organ by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
26.
Fantasmagorie for Organ, AWV 73 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
27.
De Jules Lemaître, for organ or piano, JA 62 (AWV 72) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1935 
28.
Complainte à la mode ancienne, for organ, JA 38 (AWV 35) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1932 
29.
Climat for Organ, AWV 64 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
30.
Choral phrygien for Organ, AWV 76 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
31.
Choral dorien for Organ, AWV 75 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
32.
Choral cistercien pour un élévation for Organ, AWV 62 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
33.
Chant donné, for organ (or piano), JA 37 (AWV 33) by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1932 
34.
Berceuse sur deux notes qui cornent, AWV 5 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
35.
Ballade en mode phrygien, AWV 8 by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
36.
Animato-Andante for Organ, AWV 65b by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
37.
Variations sur un chant donné de Rimski-Korsakov by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930 
38.
L’Année liturgique israélite by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938 
39.
Synagogue Music by Jehan-Ariste Alain
Performer:  Jean-Baptiste Robin (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 

Sound Samples

Litanies, AWV 100
Intermezzo, AWV 74a, "Fileuse"
3 Danses, AWV 119: No. 1. Joies
3 Danses, AWV 119: No. 2. Deuils, "Danse funebre pour honorer une memoire heroique"
3 Danses, AWV 119: No. 3. Luttes
Choral cistercien, AWV 62
Fantaisie No. 2, AWV 91
Suite, AWV 86: I. Introduction and Variation
Suite, AWV 86: II. Scherzo
Suite, AWV 86: III. Choral
Choral dorien, AWV 75
Choral phrygien, AWV 76
Un cercle d'argent, AWV 31
Romance, AWV 34
Grave, AWV 36
Variations sur un theme de Clement Jannequin, AWV 99
Fantasmagorie, AWV 73
Chant donne, AWV 33
Prelude profane No. 2, AWV 58
2 Danses a Agni Yavishta, AWV 61: No. 1. Allegro
2 Danses a Agni Yavishta, AWV 61: No. 2. Pas vite
Aria, AWV 120
Berceuse sur 2 notes qui cornent, AWV 5
Prelude et fugue, AWV 77: Prelude
Petite piece, AWV 37
Postlude pour l'Office des Complies, AWV 13
Ballade en mode phrygien, AWV 8
Berceuse, AWV 87
Lamento, AWV 10
Variations sur l'hymne Lucas creator, AWV 29: Variations sur l'hymne Lucis creator, AWV 29
Monodie, AWV 109A
Complainte a la mode ancienne, AWV 35
Climat, AWV 64
Prelude et fugue, AWV 77: Fugue
Prelude profane No. 1, AWV 57
Andante from Suite monodique, AWV 65b
De Jules Lemaitre, AWV 72

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