Liszt: Une Divine Tragédie

 Liszt: Une Divine Tragédie
Thomas Ospital, organ
Editions Hortus: 149. 67’16

Orphée (transcription: Louis Robilliard)
Fantaisie et Fugue Ad nos, ad salutarem undam
Funérailles (transcription: Louis Robilliard)
Am Grabe Richard Wagners
Consolation IV

According to the programme notes, this recording takes the form of a ‘mini-opera’ (or Divine Tragedy), centred around Liszt’s monumental Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. The other four pieces on the CD, two of them modern transcriptions for organ, frame Ad nos, creating a wordless story that may (or may not) be based on the opening transcription (by Louis Robilliard) of Orphée. This arch-form piece introduces us to the concept of performing Liszt on a French, rather than German romantic organ, including an unusual cinema organ effect in the Molti più lento section. The organ is the 1989 van den Heuvel organ in the church of Saint-Eustache, Paris, an enormous instrument built in the grand tradition of the 19th-century French symphonic organ combined with many elements of the 20th-century neo-baroque that so influenced later French music from Messiaen to the then Titular Organist, Jean Guillou. A complex set of electronic wizardry was added in 2010, creating new interpretational and registration possibilities. Unfortunately, the CD includes practically no information about the organ, but it is readily available online.

Ad nos is a Fantasy and Fugue based, not on a Lutheran chorale or on the formal structure that the title might suggest, but on a melody sung by three Anabaptists in the first act of Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète, and in the form of a sonata in three equal-length and linked movements. The Fantasy dissolves into a central Recitativo and Adagio that develops and varies the chorale theme before slowly evolving, with a considerable degree of suspense (worthy of an opera) into the inevitable final fugue which, itself, is introduced with two further suspense-inducing sections and runs through a number of incarnations of its own.

Ad nos is followed by Funérailles from Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and originally for piano. It is an elegy written in tribute to three of the leaders of the Hungarian revolution of 1848 and its crushing by the Hapsburgs. As with Ad nos it is in three connected sections (two based on marches) with a short coda that recalls earlier themes. Am Grabe Richard Wagners is a tiny and reflective piece opening and closing with a solo line of music. The concluding Consolation IV continues the subdued mood to the end of the recording.

The mix of pieces is an interesting concept and works well on the organ, even if the sound is French rather than German. Thomas Ospital plays with a nice sense of freedom and makes some interesting registration decisions in Ad nos. 

The recording picks us some action noise, notably in the quiet start of Am Grabe Richard Wagners where every quiet note is heralded by a noticeable click. Sadly the overall effect of this otherwise impressive recording is badly let down by the pretentious accompanying essays.


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