The Organ of Saint Sulpice, Paris, is widely considered to be a prime example of the pinnacle of 19th-Century French organ building. Joseph Nolan expertly demonstrates the full capabilities of this mighty organ with this programme of Romantic organ music, performing favourite works by Boëllmann, Elgar, Liszt and Thalben-Ball.
This disc is a follow-up to last year’s well-received performance by Joseph Nolan on The Organ of Buckingham Palace (SIGCD114)
"Nolan not only draws real sparkle from the instrument, using its unprepossessing resources to amazing effect, but turns out a magisterial account of the sonata’s first movement [Sonata No. 3 in A, Mendelssohn]" Gramophone Magazine
"A brilliantly played Romantic recital on an oft-recorded organ.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s masterpiece in Saint Sulpice is no stranger to the recording microphone, ever since the aged Widor was persuaded to cut two precious waxes there for HMV in 1932. Since then its swirling, cavernous acoustic has challenged many a sound engineer. For Signum Andrew Mellor has managed to capture an ideal balance, not so distant that everything becomes a faint blur and not so close that the chattering of the Barker Motor action distracts and detracts. With its 101 stops spread over five manuals this organ offers an incredibly rich palette of sounds. Joseph Nolan’s Romantic programme opens with Boëllmann’s ever-popular Suite gothique. The "Minuet" and "Prière" are particularly well poised and shaped, while the opening of the final Toccata purrs gently like a well oiled sewing machine before growing and growling like a mighty behemoth.
The two English items work especially well on this instrument. Ivor Atkins’s 1932 transformation of Elgar’s Severn Suite into the Organ Sonata No 2 has since been superseded by Jeremy Cull’s more faithful transcription. However, Nolan adds a hint of Worcester sauce to his Parisian gastronomy to good effect. The greatest revelations on the disc are the linked pair of pieces by Thalben-Ball. The Poema floats exquisitely and atmospherically preparing the ear for the distinctly Francophile and sparkling flavours of the Toccata Beorma.
The centrepiece of the programme is Liszt’s mighty Fantasy and Fugue on Ad nos. Despite Nolan’s committed interpretation I am not convinced that this effusion is anything more than vacuous waffle, though brilliantly played."
“These performances are full of spontaneity yet for all Nolan’s brilliance he allows the requirements of the composer always to take priority. The sympathy and expression that Nolan gives to this music and the assurance of his results will undoubtedly give this recital a special place amongst organ collectors”
"The five manual Cavaillé-Coll in St Sulpice is a fine vehicle for the French and German romantic repertoire but a more challenging choice for works by Elgar and Thalben-Ball. Joseph Nolan’s approach to Boëllmann’s Suite Gothique is monumental and impressive. Tempi are on the slow side, which allows the music greater breadth and sensitivity, with a softly lyrical Priere. The Toccata comes across as a far more symphonic work than a more extrovert and possibly rushed tempi would have allowed.
This monumentality acts as a fine balance to Liszt’s Fantasie & Fuge uber den Chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. Here the acoustic is allowed to come into its own and there is a fine sense of being in St Sulpice with the onslaught of the work and the sheer excitement of the playing. The end of the work is allowed to have its head and the climax is almost overwhelming.
Thalben-Ball’s Toccata Beorma was written for the University of Birmingham in 1972, and is probably the least known piece on the disc. Poema was written a few years later and the two published in 1980. Both pieces are untypical of Thalben-Ball’s more conservative writing but are here very much at home with the European works, for there is more than a touch of French organ music about the scores. The gentle, hypnotic Poema leads to a more strident and enthusiastic Toccata. For both, Joseph Nolan is able to convince us that they are not out of place in what might be assumed to be more prestigious company.
Elgar’s Second Sonata sits very comfortably on the Cavaillé-Coll. Given its brass band and orchestral origin it yields itself to a broad brush approach where registration is concerned and is here given a breadth of colour and tone which adds to its attraction. Joseph Nolan may have moved to Australia but his concert calendar and recordings like this help to keep us all in touch with a very fine performer."