While no organist’s music bench would be respectable without dog-eared copies of the Suite gothique (especially its concluding, Toccata, no mere knock-off of Widor’s showier counterpart) and C minor Toccata, there are vanishingly few albums dedicated to the organ music of Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897), making this Brilliant Classics reissue of Piet van der Steen’s album all the more enticing a proposition to organ buffs.
A short-lived contemporary of Louis Vierne, Boëllmann composed in most classical genres, notably chamber music, but it is his output for organ that has assured him immortality, for its hand-in-glove harmony with the instruments of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll that represented the high-point of French organ building in the Gothic style, never knowingly underequipped. Boëllmann wrote accordingly, to take advantage of the new French organs with their prodigious array of registral colours and dynamic variation.
Beyond the imperishable but ubiquitous Suite Gothique, the album offers discoveries galore, in the pomp and circumstance of the little-known Fantaisie, the perfumed refinements of the selection from his liturgically focused Heures mystiques, the quiet radiance of the G major Offertoire and the ingenious Carillon from the Douze pièces. The ‘Prelude pastoral’ opening the Deuxième Suite is a real charmer, and deserves to stimulate a Boëllmann renaissance along with much else here. It was recorded in 1977 by Piet van der Steen along with most of the shorter pieces on the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Augustinuskerk in Amsterdam (first issued as an LP by the Cantilena label), whereas the Suite Gothique and Heures Mystiques excerpts date from 2002, on the Schyven organ of the Church of Ss Peter and Paul in Oostend.
· Boëllmann was born in Ensisheim, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, the son of a pharmacist. In 1871, at the age of nine, he entered the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse (L'École Niedermeyer) in Paris, where he studied with its director, Gustave Lefèvre, and with Eugène Gigout. There, Boëllmann won first prizes in piano, organ, counterpoint, fugue, plainsong, and composition. He became organist titulaire of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, a position he held until his early death, probably from tuberculosis.
· Boëllmann’s style is deeply rooted in the French organ tradition, especially by Franck and Saint-Saëns. His music makes full use of the enormous possibilities of the French organs built in his lifetime.
· This recording presents the famous Suite Gothique (with the notorious Toccata!), selections from Douze Pièce pour Orgue Op 16 and Heures Mystiques as well as the 2nd Suite for organ Op. 27.
· Played on the Schyven-organ (later restored by Flentrop) in the Petrus-en-Paulus-Kerk in Oostende (Belgium) and the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Augustinus Church in Amsterdam.
· Played by Piet van der Steen, one of the most remarkable and famous Dutch organists of the 20-the century. This beautiful recording dates from 1977 and 2002, and has lost nothing of its freshness and power.