Organist Jens Korndörfer. (credit: Julia Dokter)

Jens Korndörfer celebrates French heritage with masterful album of Franck and Widor

ALBUM REVIEW:
Franck & Widor in Toulouse
Jens Korndörfer, organ.
1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ (III/71)
Basilica of Saint Sernin
Toulouse, France
Charles-Marie WIDOR: Symphonie VI, Op. 42, No. 2
César FRANCK: Trois Chorals
Organum Classics CLX6327
Formats: CD, digital
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Total Duration: 77:18

Giorgio Koukl | 7 JUL 2024

It is quite seldom that a CD has all three elements perfectly balanced and of this high quality: the interpreter, organist Jens Korndörfer, the repertoire, chosen Franck and Widor, and as an infinitely valuable ingredient, the particular organ of the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse (France) used for this recording.

CLX6327 cover art

CLX6327 cover art

Let us start with the instrument chosen: one of the few surviving instruments of the great French tradition built in 1889 by Aristide Cavaillè-Coll (1811–1899). This organ builder, often equaled to Stradivari among the organ producers and builders, born in Southwest France, was the main reference for a certain neo-romantic feeling that was “en vogue” in France, ignited certainly by works of Wagner, echoed by Berlioz with his enormous orchestras of many musicians. What would have been more logical than building organs of equal potency, with thousands of combinations, imitating all orchestra groups and with unequaled possibilities of crescendo or decrescendo—until then, a very limited feature? So, no wonder all the scores featured on this CD were intended to be played on this organ or a similar one.


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Well, Mr. Cavaillè-Coll was the right man for such a task; from his well-known Parisian atelier, he produced many of the most famous organs in France, in Lyon, Rouen, and Paris. He was dreaming the impossible dream of building “The Organ,” absolutely the dream of any organ builder: the instrument of Saint Peter of Rome.

With its five keyboards and 124 “Jeux,” it would have been the biggest organ in the world. Unfortunately, we have only a few drawings left from this dream.

Unfortunately, this golden age of the organ ended very soon, and the successive generations of composers and organ players returned to a much more austere version of an ideal sound, thus modifying the existing instruments to the point that very few of them remain existent and in playable order.


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The two composers chosen for this disc are Cèsar Franck and Charles-Marie Widor, with the Trois Chorals and the Symphonie No. 6 in G minor, Op. 42 No. 2, practically the best of that particular period.

Widor’s Symphony No. 6, composed in 1878, is a significant work in the organ repertoire. “Introduction et Alllegro,” chosen for this installment, serves as a grand introduction, establishing the key and thematic material. The “Allegro” section often showcases virtuosic passages, demonstrating the organist’s technical capabilities. It’s characterized by its bold and majestic themes, often contrasted with more delicate and lyrical passages.

Jens Korndörfer playing the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ (III/71), Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, France. (credit: Julia Dokter)

Jens Korndörfer playing the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ (III/71), Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, France. (credit: Julia Dokter)

Mr. Korndörfer is at his peak while playing this music, fully commanding all the intricacy of movements, choice of tempi, dynamics, and sounds, delivering a flawless, scintillating carpet of immense beauty.

César Franck’s Trois Chorals (“Three Chorales”) are among the most revered compositions in the organ repertoire. Composed between 1890 and 1891, these pieces deeply reflect Franck’s late style, which is characterized by rich harmonic language, profound spirituality, and structural integrity.

The Choral No. 1 in E major opens with a serene and introspective atmosphere, characterized by a simple yet profound melody. It culminates in a powerful and triumphant climax, expressing a sense of transcendence.


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Choral No. 2 in B minor is more dramatic and turbulent in character than the first. It opens with a bold and assertive theme, setting the tone for the intense emotional journey that follows. Franck explores a wide range of emotions, from anguish and despair to moments of profound hope and redemption. Mr. Korndörfer perfectly reproduces all this; it can be said that he is here at his peak.

Choral No. 3 in A minor is perhaps the most famous of the set, renowned for its profound spirituality and emotional depth. It is very often recorded and exists in numerous versions. It opens with a solemn and haunting melody, evoking a sense of mystery and reverence. Once again, Mr. Korndörfer obtains the maximal rendering from his Toulouse organ. The sound engineers have indeed done their best to capture the complex sound of this instrument. Franck employs rich harmonies and poignant dissonances to convey a profound sense of longing and spiritual yearning.

As said at the beginning, this is a rare example of a disc where all the ingredients are really of top quality, so it’s no wonder that this can be highly recommended to anybody interested in organ music or French culture generally.

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About the author:
Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. (photo: Chiara Solari)

Read more by Giorgio Koukl.
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