WIDOR Organ Symphony No 7 (Tarrant)
Organist Jeremy David Tarrant rightly claims Charles-Marie Widor’s Seventh Symphony to be ‘the apex of symphonic writing for organ’, a successful fusion of virtuoso ambition and thematic unity. One needs a combination of fingers, musicality and brains to show how the six movements coalesce insofar as tempo relationships, registrations and emotional contrast are concerned. The choice of instrument also helps. For example, the Casavant Organ at the First Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, featured in Tarrant’s recording boasts plenty of sonorous heft and dynamic contrast, while the colourfully diverse stops blend without seeming overly diffuse, in contrast to the shattering brightness in loud tuttis that one hears in certain Cavaillé-Coll instruments associated with this repertoire.
However, it’s ultimately Tarrant’s show. He minimises the first movement’s episodic tendencies by treating the big chordal passages as signposts, while sculpting contrapuntal sequences in forward-moving arcs. He also brings more pliability to the second-movement Andantino agitato’s counterpoint, although you strain to hear the pianissimos without turning up the volume beforehand. The Allegretto has a fetching lilt and attractive linear independence; indeed, the pedal staccatos occasionally sound as though they were plucked. Tarrant shapes the fourth movement from an eagle-eyed, big picture perspective, with the long melodies in the foreground and the undulating accompaniment unfolding in fluid paragraphs.
Despite similar timings for the fifth movement, Tarrant’s more liberal tempo modifications and aching delicacy in quiet passages differ from Joseph Nolan’s relatively generalised and less characterfully contrasted performance. Granted, Nolan’s broad, monumental way with the finale drives the descending chromatic lines’ point home, yet I lean towards Tarrant’s faster reading for its cumulative energy and feeling of inevitability, while retaining affection for the diffusive wildness and dexterous élan of Daniel Roth’s classic recording (Mottete, 10/90 – nla).
The remaining works are more than mere fillers. Some listeners may find Gaston Litaize’s Lied less rambling and static than I do but two of the three Vierne pieces (the Impromptu and the Toccata) allow Tarrant to let loose and show off – tastefully, of course!