By Chris Bragg
Choir & Organ
This release has a slightly curious genesis in that the first two volumes in Aeolus’s complete Vierne symphony cycle were recorded fully a decade ago by Daniel Roth at St Sulpice. If the story is to be believed, Roth is less fond of the last two of Vierne’s symphonies, however, and the cycle has now been completed by the American Stephen Tharp. Tharp is quite rightly recognised as one of the great organists of our time, and his mastery of this most challenging of organs is mightily impressive. With new Vierne discs, especially on the great Cavaillé-Colls (a point of discussion in itself; many feel Vierne’s music was largely inspired by the organs he encountered elsewhere), my personal point of reference remains Ben van Oosten’s peerless performances for MDG. Some limited comparison is interesting, if only for illustrative purposes: while Van Oosten’s Vierne looks melancholically over your shoulder, Tharp’s looks you straight in the eye and compels you to stare back. It is not quick (indeed, the Larghetto from the Fifth is really very slow), but it is driven and brilliant. If the scherzos seem more humorous than ghoulishly tortured, the fiendish finale to the Sixth is hair-raisingly magnificent, with some telling rubato holding the horses back at just the right moments. The sound of the awe-inspiring Cavaillé-Coll seems, to my ears, slightly over- engineered: I want to hear the organ above me, as in the church, but instead I hear it in front of me with, at close quarters, Clicquot’s Cymbale cascading against the vault from its position high in the Récit. It is no more than a question of taste; Aeolus’s production values, photography and booklet are as exceptional as ever, and Tharp’s performances make this very highly recommendable.