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By contrast Jehan Alain was only twenty-nine when it was his turn to die in action
during the Second World War (1940). He was a pupil of Marcel Dupré, who had learnt
from Vierne. He too was a Notre-Dame organist in that the synagogue where he played was in
a street named after Our Lady of Nazareth. In his ten years of mature creativity, he produced
120 works, predominantly for the organ and piano. Should there be any choice in the matter when
death lurks for me, I would rather he pounced as I tap a final full-stop to some
Music & Vision review than in the pandemonium of a random, Bush-provoked
act of terrorism.
Because of his disability, Vierne composed at an easel, writing in pencil outsize shapes
to be copied later. Central to his work are the six organ symphonies spanning between them
more than thirty years. Symphony No 5 dates from 1923-4, is the most extended in its quintet
of movements, and is a thoroughly convincing rejection of post-war modishness. The war, in
which he lost a son and a brother, had indeed dealt cruelly with Vierne, and the symphony
opens in portentous solemnity. But there is at once thrilling virtuosity to follow
[listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:11]. The Willis-Harrison organ of Durham
Cathedral is as quintessentially English as Cavaillé-Coll is masterfully French, but
James Lancelot shows throughout how effectively he can command the grand Romantic gesture.
The tempo di scherzo shows a very different side of Vierne, at once mercurial and
grotesque [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:10].
Copyright © 16 April 2003
Robert Anderson, London, UK