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Jehan Alain | Complete Organ Works (3 CDs)

Recording: : Brillant Classics 94233 EAN code5028421942339 - September 2011

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Overview :

Program of the CD:

1 Litanies, JA 119 (1935)
2 Intermezzo, JA 66bis (mai 1935)
(3-5) Trois danses, JA 120A et 120 bis. (1937-38)
3 Joies
4 Deuils
5 Luttes
6 Choral cistercien pour une Élévation, JA 134 (1934)
7 Deuxième Fantaisie, JA 117 (1936?)
(8-10) Suite, JA 69, 70, 82 (1934-35)
8 Introduction et Variations
9 Scherzo
10 Choral
11 Choral dorien, JA 67 (1935)
12 Choral phrygien, JA 68 (1935)
(13-15) Trois minutes, JA 30, JA 3 et JA 32 (1932)
13 Un cercle d'argent
14 Romance
15 Grave

Tracks 1 to 6 : Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris, France
Tracks 7 to 15 : Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île, Paris, France

1 Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin, JA 118 (1937)
2 Fantasmagorie, JA 63 (1935)
3 Chant donné, JA 37 (1932)
4 Deuxième Prélude profane (Und jetzt), JA 65 (6 mars 1933)
5 Deux Danses à Agni Yavishta, JA 77 : première danse (13 octobre 1932)
6 Deux Danses à Agni Yavishta, JA 78 : deuxième danse
7 Aria, JA 138 (novembre 1938)
8 Berceuse sur deux notes qui cornent, JA 7 bis (août 1929)
9 Prélude, JA 75 (1935)
10 Petite pièce, JA 33 (décembre 1932)
11 Postlude pour l'Office de Complies, JA 29 (1930)
12 Ballade en mode phrygien, JA 9 (janvier 1930)
13 Berceuse, JA 86 (17 avril 1936)
14 Lamento, JA 14 (février 1930)
15 Variations sur Lucis Creator, JA 27 (janvier 1932)
16 Monodie, JA 135 (8 septembre 1938)
17 Complainte à la mode ancienne, JA 38 (1932)
18 Climat, JA 79 (mars 1932)
19 Fugue, JA 57 (1935)
20 Premier Prélude profane (Wieder an), JA 64 (février 1933)
21 Andante, JA 89 bis Suite monodique pour piano (1935)
22 De Jules Lemaître, JA 62 (1935)

Tracks 1 to 18 : Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île, Paris, France
Tracks 19 to 22 : Église Sainte-Radegonde, Poitiers, France

1 Variations sur un chant donné de Rimski-Korsakov, JA 131A (décembre 1930) (world premiere recording)
2 L'année liturgique israélite, JA 139 (1938)
3 Fugue en mode de fa, JA 28 (1932)
4 Le jardin suspendu (Chacone), JA 71 (1934)
5 Fugue sur un sujet de Henri Rabaud, JA 133A (1933) (world premiere recording)
6 Verset-Choral, JA 6 (mars 1931)
7 Canon en mode dorien pour piano et harmonium, JA 61 (1932) (world premiere recording)
8 Première Fantaisie, JA 72 (1933)
9 Deuxième Fantaisie, JA 117 (2nd version)
10 Les fêtes de l'année israélite
11 Oumordekhoy
12 Osseko Edroch
13 Ono Tovo
14 Vehakohanim
15 Lekho Dodi
16 Adonoy Molokh
17 Kol Nidre
18 Schivo Berokhoss

tracks 1, 5 and 7: world premiere recording
track 10: avec l'autorisation de la famille ALAIN (with the permission of the Alain family)
tracks 11-18: world premiere recording (Digitally Remastered)

Tracks 1 to 8 : Église Sainte-Radegonde, Poitiers, France
Track 9 : Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Cincinnati, (USA)
Track 10 : Jehan Alain - Temple de la rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, Paris, France (1938) from a recording by studio Rinaphone, SK 1673 and SK 1674
Tracks 11 to 18 : Choeur et orchestre du Temple de la rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth (Jehan ALAIN, orgue - Joseph BLUMBERG, cantor - Léon ALGAZI, direction musicale). Temple de la rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, Paris, France (1938).

About the recording :
In his short life (1911-40) Jehan Alain composed some of the most fresh and original music for organ.The influences of composers such as Duruflé and Dutilleux mingle with Gregorian Chant and jazz and the exotic - the latter Alain discovered at the Colonial Exposition of 1931. Interestingly, many of the organ works were conceived for other forms - orchestra in the case of the Trois Dances, String Quintet for the Suite for Organ: Introduction and Variations for example. Many of the works started life as piano pieces, or for small chamber ensemble.

This release contains recordings made in the 1930s of the composer performing his Les Fetes de l'annee Israelite and Synagogue Music - fascinating historical documents. Great performances by Jean-Baptiset Robin.

- Comprehensive booklet notes, including technical specifications of the organs.
- Important historical recordings by the composer.
- Recordings on CD1 & 2 made in 2008.
- Includes 4 world premiere recordings.

Jehan Alain - Liner notes

The music of Jehan Alain is like a tightrope walker, innocently expressing the rapture and pain pervading his existence. His work fluctuates between melancholy and humour, while touching us with the sincerity and modesty of indefatigable youth.
The freshness of inspiration of his scores, often drafted wherever he happened to be, reflects a life too short but intensely lived. Jehan Alain was motivated by an insatiable curiosity, and an artist in the wider sense of the term, as gifted at drawing as he was captivated by poetry.
Numerous influences fed his world, from the early music introduced to him by his father, the Gregorian chant ubiquitous in church music, to the exoticism which he discovered at the Colonial Exposition of 1931, and jazz, which inhabited all his compositions. His style
was nevertheless utterly original, and influenced a number of creative artists: Maurice Duruflé, Henri Dutilleux and Jean-Louis Florentz.
Thanks to Marie-Claire Alain, I enjoyed the privilege of studying all facets of this music, comparing various manuscripts at length. These show that the vast majority of organ works by Jehan Alain were also conceived for other forms. It is worth noting that the more developed the work, the more so too the form of the corresponding version (string quintet for the Suite pour orgue: Introduction et variations, orchestra for the Trois Danses). Infinite detail, always highly precise and copious references to nuance, illustrate thinking which transcends the customary scope of the organ. Alain seems dissatisfied with the instrument for which he writes, and so
he enters a kind of imagination, a "perpetually sought after ideal" as he describes in Le Jardin suspendu. For myself as performer and composer, this oeunconfined' aspect of his work is perhaps the most exciting. This originality compels one to break free from certain routine interpretations, and to come up with instrumental solutions to convey Alain's ideas, through the prism of course of each individual performer's imagination and subjectivity.
To best transcribe this music, the Parisian instrument at the Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont seemed to me perfect for the defined and reactive works (Litanies and Trois Danses). The organ of the Église Sainte-Radegonde-de-Poitiers delivers the sound envelope and colour palette essential for the Fantaisies and the Suite. The instrument of Bernard Aubertin at the Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île in Paris is a model for those works that reference the early music so loved by Jehan Alain.
organs of Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960). This type of American orchestral organ lends Alain's work an unprecedented dynamic and colour.
This set concludes with the only known aural record of Alain playing the organ. These historic accounts date from the year 1938 and were performed at the synagogue on the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth in Paris, where Jehan Alain and the composer Léon Algazi (1890-1971) played from 1936. The works with choir, orchestra and organ are arrangements of traditional Hebrew songs, and cannot fail to evoke certain aspects of Alain's modal style.
CD 1
1. Litanies
JA 119 (completed 15 August 1937)
Three weeks after the completion of this universally known work, Marie-Odile, beloved sister of Jehan, died tragically during a mountain climb, choosing to save the life of her brother Olivier Alain. The inscription to Litanies (initially entitled Supplications) bears witness to this: "When in its distress the Christian soul no longer finds new words to implore God's mercy, it ceaselessly repeats the same entreaty with impassioned faith. Reason attains its limits. Faith alone continues the ascent."
The work is constructed on a single theme repeated continuously with an irregular, very
fast beat (Hold to the limits of speed and clarity). At the centre of the work appears a moment of deeply rapt "prayer" (in homage to Marie-Odile?), which then tips over into a brilliant conclusion. Certain passages originating from Fantasmagorie evoke the rumbling motion of
a train.
2. Intermezzo JA 66 bis (May 1934)
In 1935 Jehan Alain devised an organ transcription from his Intermezzo (also entitled Fileuse) for two pianos and bassoon. The work is constructed around a cantilena and a second rhythmic theme, but above all strives for atmosphere, for which vital space for accompaniment and harmonic balance is created.
CD 3 offers a second version of the Deuxième Fantaisie on one of the most marvelous
3-5. Trois Danses. Joies, Deuils, Luttes. JA 120A and 120 bis (1937-38)
Jehan Alain's masterpiece was originally intended for orchestra, but only a piano reduction (1937-38) and a subsequent version for organ (1940) have reached us complete.
Joies reveals the two themes of the work: a meditative chorale characteristic of Alain's style, and a fiery dance rhythm. The first movement contrasts then overlays these two themes. After a final arresting crescendo, an oboe solo filled with nostalgia appears: "A wind of melancholy dissolves the movement. All this tumultuous activity melts into a sad, insistent melody".
Deuils or Danse funèbre pour honorer une mémoire héroïque (Funeral dance in honour of a heroic memory) was written as an homage to Marie-Odile who died in 1937 (see Litanies).
Deuils opens with a sombre passacaglia ostinato, which is none other than the opening theme of Joies modified. This thematic ostinato transforms into a scherzando which evokes a wild ritual dance, prevailing then with the chorale-like organ tutti.
Luttes takes up once more the thematic contrasts and overlays of Joies, but the funereal chorale of Deuils arrives to brutally punctuate the discourse. This chorale is introduced so swiftly that it erupts like shellfire, endeavouring to demolish the themes of Joies. It is finally these onslaughts which dominate and conclude the work.
One cannot refrain from creating a connection between this work and the heroic and tragic destiny of a young man killed in action. The manuscript of these Danses for organ miraculously reached Paris a few weeks before the death of the composer. This work in all likelihood inspired the vision of the Trois Danses for orchestra by Maurice Duruflé.
6. Choral cistercien pour une Élévation JA 134 (1934)
The original register mitigates the intensity of the two bass voices, highlighting the two high-pitched, flute-toned voices. The sonority befits the Elevation [of the Host], and the work does not fall into conventional constraints.
-7. Deuxième Fantaisie JA 117 (1936)
This masterpiece introduces an initial Gregorian theme (Exultabunt Domino), followed by a weighty transition. The second theme is a fiery vocalise reminiscent of Jewish music. According to the composer, the central, turbulent section represents "harmonies like embers, waiting for the gust of wind which will cause a dancing flame to soar in a cascade of sparks". The recapitulation in mirror image is of a remarkable depth of inspiration.
8-10. Suite JA 69, 70, 82 (1934-35)
The work received the Prix de composition (Composition Prize) from the Amis de l'orgue
(Friends of the Organ) in 1936, and the first two movements stem from an initial version for string quintet. The Introduction et variations begin with "delicate sonorities which can be woven into the softness, yielding a limpid and fluid web, like a silken veil". The rondo variations bestow a somewhat chromatic language, with intimations of César Franck or Louis Vierne.
The Scherzo in G sharp minor opens with a mysterious flute trio, subsequently emerging in tormented mode. Alain then overlays the two themes in an atmosphere of conciliation, then with organ tutti.
The Chorale in the form of ABA is written for four to six voices, and (in the present version) concludes this Suite gloriously in A flat major. The composer saw here "a great multitude, demanding ascents, embellished with clamour... Sudden shadows, great bursts of sunshine... And wind, wind".
11. Choral dorien JA 67 (1935)
Here it is more a question of plainchant than chorale, and the mode is phrygian, not dorian (Alain adopted the terminology taught at the time by Maurice Emmanuel). The work continuously repeats the theme and transposes it, the arching form culminating in an intense, unusual harmony.
12. Choral phrygien JA 68 (1935)
Written in dorian mode, this follows the same form as JA 67, but the theme comes closer to a vocalise.
13-15. Trois minutes (1932)
Un cercle d'argent JA 30, Romance JA 3, Grave JA 32
The first section responds to a brilliant poem on the moon, while the nostalgic Romance and the tenacious Grave do not derive from any literary source of inspiration.
CD 2
1. Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin
JA 118 (1937)
The opening part of the work is a version of a song by Janequin (L'espoir que j'ai d'acquérir votre grâce/'The hope I have of gaining your favour'), arranged by Weckerlin. This homage to the old masters continues with a variation in the major key in the style of the cromorne, then a fugato in tenor on cornet and tierce. The diptych Les Citations by Henri Dutilleux draws on this work in the movement De Janequin à Jehan Alain.
2. Fantasmagorie JA 63 (1935)
The original registers, the polytonal language and an evocation of the rolling motion of a train give the work a capricious quality.
3. Chant donné JA 37 (1932)
The very simple melody (on two notes') gives rise to some inspired harmonies.
4. Deuxième Prélude profane (Und jetzt) JA 65 (6 March 1933)
The writing recalls the Lamento, but the mood here follows an arch-like form which concludes in a mysterious void.
5-6. Deux Danses à Agni Yavishta JA 77-78 (13 October 1932)
These evoke Agni, the Hindu god of sacrificial fire. In the first dance the tune crackles with the oboe playing to the rhythm of an increasingly scintillating dance. The second dance is more funereal, but delivers some fleeting flashes.
7. Aria JA 138 (November 1938)
The first theme is a slow lament accompanied by triads in ancient metre. The second theme is more fiery and passionate. The development leads to a new element: a most moving melody in the traditional style, which takes its inspiration from the first theme. Jehan Alain's final organ work concludes with an ecstatic chord.
8. Berceuse sur deux notes qui cornent JA 7 bis (August 1929)
Alain's first work for organ was inspired by two jammed notes on an organ. The humour and poetry of the musician would not subsequently disappear.
9. Prélude JA 75 (1935)
A polymodal theme for two voices, sustained by an unchanging chord, is interspersed with "Baroque" cadences.
10. Petite pièce JA 33 (December 1932)
This Organ piece is a succession of ideas and diverse musical moods.
11. Postlude pour l'Office de Complies JA 29 (1930)
Originally composed for the ancient organ at Valloires Abbey (Normandy), this small gem "on the themes of evensong?" expresses serenity and trust in God.
12. Ballade en mode phrygien JA 9 (January 1930)
The first section sets out "in shades of grey" a tune in dorian mode, accompanied by a ribbon of quavers. After a joyful chorale "on the Voix humaine", a reprise of the beginning introduces some sustained pedal notes.
13. Berceuse JA 86 (17 April 1936)
The theme of this - song from 17 April 36 - returns three times, and is interspersed with a somewhat humorous commentary.
14. Lamento JA 14 (February 1930)
This magnificent lament, accompanied by a changeless tolling in the bass, unfolds in canon into its recapitulation. Other titles conferred on this piece: "Lament on a sad fate. Cantilena of the twentieth century. I have lost my Eurydice".
15. Variations sur Lucis Creator JA 27 (January 1932)
These modal variations were written for an examination in counterpoint at the Conservatoire. The structure is: 1. Polyphony for five voices with the hymn in tenor. 2. Variation introducing the theme in soprano (then in canon), accompanied by quavers. 3. In conclusion, fugue with the theme in bass.
16. Monodie JA 135 (8 September 1938)
Written in a hotel room in Nice, this illustrates the Gregorian style that the composer was especially fond of.
17. Complainte à la mode ancienneBBB JA 38 (1932)
Written so that the young "Poucette" (Marie-Claire Alain) could play the organ at Valloires.
18. Climat JA 79 (March 1932)
A simple embellishment (inferior or superior) is the subject of inspiration for two different moods.
19. Fugue JA 57 (1935)
The lengthy subject explores the total chromatic, calling jazz to mind. The language of the work is resolutely dodecaphonic. There is a nod towards the Second Viennese School. The final chord in C major sounds like a poetic witticism.
20. Premier Prélude profane (Wieder an) JA 64 (February 1933)
The version recorded here has been previously unreleased on disc. It belonged to Bernard Gavoty. Alain wrote the work after a long bout of pneumonia, and composed here a modal theme of much tenderness. The work dies away, low-pitched, after a number of commentaries which develop the initial theme.
21. Andante JA 89 bis Suite monodique pour piano (1935)
A melody of profound inwardness accompanied by a mysterious and distant echo.
22. De Jules Lemaître JA 62 (1935)
A brief meditation on "The anguish of feeling his lament fade away in loneliness, the craving to be loved and the fear of loving too grievously".
CD 3
1. Variations sur un chant donné de Rimski-Korsakov
JA 131A (December 1930)
These barely known brief variations reveal a great variety of expression, and at times recall the style of Marcel Dupré (a rare occurrence with Alain).
2. L'année liturgique israélite JA 139 (1938)
Alain played regularly at the synagogue on the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth in Paris, where in 1938 he had the opportunity to record a 78 r.p.m. disc of Les fêtes de l'année israélite (track 10 on CD3). The version to hand follows the edition published under the direction of Marie-Claire Alain. The themes presented correspond to Jewish festivals: Pesach/Passover, Shavuot/Feast of Weeks, Purim/Festival of Lots, Rosh Hashanah/The Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, Sukkot/Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, Hannukah/Festival of Lights, and once again Pesach.
3. Fugue en mode de fa JA 28 (1932)
A joyful fughetta with a bell-like theme, which gives rise to countless imitations.
4. Le Jardin suspendu (Chacone) JA 71 (1934)
"The hanging garden, it's the perpetually sought after and elusive ideal of the artist, it's the unattainable and inviolable sanctuary", commented the artist. This meditative Chaconne is constructed from a twelve-bar ostinato in the organ's high-pitch register. Each return of the theme is modified by poetic scales which progress "without haste", by uncommon triplets, and at bar 51, by fleeting arabesques punctuated by a profoundly solemn and serene note. The work dies away on notes of exceptional length.
5. Fugue sur un sujet d'Henri Rabaud JA 133A (1933)
This is Jehan Alain's prize for fugue from the Conservatoire. The theme is not especially elegant, but the work created by Alain merits much musical interest.
6. Verset-Choral JA 6 (March 1931)
The theme recalls that of an Alleluia, constantly iterated in remote atmospheres.
7. Canon en mode dorien pour piano et harmonium JA 61 (1932)
This canon for four voices in the key of E transposed to A is a melancholy dance in three-four time.
8. Première Fantaisie JA 72 (1933)
This Fantaisie to illustrate a quatrain by Omar Khayyám is dedicated to Olivier Alain, who introduced his brother to the work of the Persian writer. The heart-rending chords at the beginning depict a cry to the heavens, and announce a second, mournful theme with prolonged notes (before their invention by Olivier Messiaen). These ideas are then developed in the second section of the work which illustrates the calm response of heaven, and a theme to the amusing words: A big locomotive, with a very small tender.
Jean-Baptiste Robin

Reviews :

5 de Diapason
***** dans le magazine Luister en mars 2012
BBBResmusica (France) : : "Jean-Baptiste Robin se situe tout d'abord dans la continuite de ce que lui a transmis la soeur de Jehan Alain, Marie-Claire Alain, avec qui il a étudié des textes. On l'imagine à l'écoute des divers manuscrits souvent disponibles pour une même oeuvre, et de cette très forte tradition familiale. Mais ce qui frappe également c'est la projection de cette musique vers quelque chose de nouveau, d'imaginatif, d'inédit. Et pourtant Jehan Alain est bien là, tel que nous l'attendons, avec toute sa magie. La « sonnerie de trompette » de Litanies, le début méditatif non métrique de la Fantaisie n° 2, la dernière page de Luttes, prise à bras le corps, dans un élan irrésistible, ou encore la fin de Deuils et cette lamentation monodique, comme ouvrant sur l'éternité." Frédéric Munoz

MusicWeb International, January 2012
"The playing by Jean-Baptiste Robin is superb and finely nuanced and his choice of the organs is so thoughtful, cleverly matching their qualities to particular works...This set is an absolute must for any organ enthusiast but anyone will be hugely affected by these works, the superlative playing, excellent recording and totally brilliant music from one of the greatest ever writers for the organ. I cannot overemphasise the thrill of listening to these captivating compositions"