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Maxine Thévenot celebrates the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta at the pipe organ of St. John's Cathedral "Full of character and charm. . ." reviews Choir & Organ - [OAR-912]

Reviews Charles Huddleston Heaton in The Diapason, January 2011:
This colorful recording, with many compositions in the "lesser-known" category, contains much of interest, including four brief pieces by Gerald Bales, one of which is a Toccatina 'Go, Tell it on the Mountain', which would be a sure-fire hit on any recital, as would the following Humoresque by Pietro Yon—not to mention a Serenade for Organ by Derek Bourgeois! We are indebted to Maxine Thévenot for the opportunity to hear unusual pieces beautifully performed.

The title of the CD has to do with the annual Balloon Festival held in Albuquerque, although perhaps three of the selections most embody the concept: Toccata Festival by Fredrik Sixten, Simon Preston's familiar Alleluyas, and the concluding Toccata from Boëllmann's Suite Gothique, which is played in its entirety as the concluding selection.

A curious and brief Patterns by George Andrix (b. 1932) did not move me very much, but is well played, as is everything on the disc. French composers Langlais, Messiaen, Gigout, Vierne, and Boellmann represent the latter half of the recording. You will enjoy it all.

Reviews James Hildreth in The American Organist, May 2010:
Maxine Thévenot presents a delightful, varied program of mostly short pieces that awakens a festive, joyful spirit. . . She uses the large, colorful instrument well. . . . this is a most enjoyable program, beautifully performed, full of light and color, like hundreds of vividly hued balloons in the bright New Mexico sky.

Reviews Choir & Organ magazine with 4 stars, November/December 2009: "Recorded during the annual International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM, in 2008, Maxine Thévenot's largely European-sourced recital puts Reuter's Op. 2210 . . . through its paces to entertaining effect. Full of character and charm, it is an attractive, flexible and subtle instrument, with Thévenot clearly relishing its ability to encompass delicacies by Vaughan Williams, Messiaen and Derek Bourgeois, the imposing Suite gothique of Boëllmann, and a first recording of Fredrik Sixten's bright, buoyant Toccata festival."

Reviews The American Record Guide, November/December 2009: ". . . the popular setting of [Vaughan Williams'] Rhosymedre is well-paced. . . . Preston's Alleluyas gets one of the better interpretations with appropriate registration and pace for the various sections of the piece. . . . The Vierne pieces are very well performed and interpreted.

Fredrik Sixten: Toccata festival *
Gerald Bales: Three Short Pieces
Semplice Simple Gifts • Idyll Fairest Lord Jesus • Dance Lord of the Dance
Gerald Bales: Toccatina Go, Tell It on the Mountain
Pietro Yon: Humoresque (L’Organo Primitivo)
Derek Bourgeois: Serenade for Organ
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Rhosymedre
Simon Preston: Alleluyas
George Andrix: Patterns from Three Pieces for Organ
Jean Langlais: Nazard from Suite Française, Op. 59
Langlais: Chant de Paix from Neuf Pièces, Op. 40
Olivier Messiaen: Joie et clarté des corps glorieux from Les Corps Glorieux
Eugène Gigout: Scherzo
Louis Vierne: Berceuse from 24 Pièces en Style Libre
Louis Vierne: Allegro vivace (mvt. 3) from Première Symphonie pour Grand Orgue, Op.14
Léon Boellmann: Suite Gothique

People by the hundreds of thousands converge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during nine days in October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Its organizers describe it as “the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” Some 700 balloons rise at the 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park, the event having grown from a mere 13 balloons in the first year, 1972.
The same air we breathe lifts these balloons and buoys the joyous spirits of balloonists and throngs of viewers. Blown through the thousands of pipes in the organ at Albuquerque's Cathedral of St. John, the same air makes the sounds for the Fiesta of music, mostly festive and joyous, played by Maxine Thévenot on this recording. The organ's three-manual console controls four manual divisions and the pedal division of Reuter Organ Co., Op. 2210, installed 2002, incorporating portions of Op. 918, 1950.

Music by Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten (B. 1962) enjoys wide performance and recording in most of the Western world. A 1986 graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm where he studied composition with Sven-David Sandström, he writes prolifically for sacred choirs, sacred and secular organ performance, as well as for other solo instruments and ensembles in both secular and sacred styles. As organist and conductor, he directs the music at Härnösands Cathedral. He made four CDs for the international Naxos label while chief conductor of the Göteborg Boys' Choir 1997-2001.

Gerald Bales (1919-2002) composed some 150 works during a career devoted primarily to church music as an organist, conductor, and music director. He worked mostly in Toronto, Calgary, and Minneapolis where he was organist-choirmaster at the Cathedral of St. Mark 1959-1971. Having been injured during a robbery at the cathedral, he taught music at the University of Ottawa and was organist-choirmaster at Trinity Anglican Church 1971- 1984. His earlier activities included study at the Toronto Conservatory 1936-1940 and presenting piano concerts including, in 1948, the premiere of his composition, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra.

Pietro Yon (1886-1943) left the post of assistant organist at the Vatican in Rome in 1907 to move to the United States as organist of St. Francis Xavier in New York. He became a widely-sought concert organist and a U. S. citizen. In 1926, he became organist of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York until his death. He composed many masses and choral works, some songs and piano pieces, and a large collection of organ works of varying gravity, but is best known for the charming Humoreske (L'Organo Primitivo) for a solo flute stop on the organ.

Englishman Derek David Bourgeois (B. 1941) composed Serenade in 1965 for his first wedding, and its jazz-like rhythms make it an audience pleaser. A former lecturer at Bristol University, former director of music at St. Paul's Girls' School, and former Artistic Director of the Bristol Philharmonic Orchestra, Bourgeois has composed nearly 300 works in all genres 1958-2008, including six organ works and a Concerto for Organ and Orchestra. He retired to Mallorca in 2002 and moved to New York State in late 2008. He graduated from Cambridge University with honors in music and, later, a doctorate. He studied composition with Herbert Howells and conducting with Sir Adrian Boult at the Royal College of Music.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) published “Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes” for organ in 1920. Beloved are all three, with perhaps Rhosymedre emerging as the favorite among them, the other two preludes being on Bryn Calfaria and Hyfrydol. A leading figure of British music, Vaughan Williams' circle of early colleagues and teachers were his lifelong champions, including Leopold Stokowski, Gustav Holst, Bertrand Russell, Max Bruch, Charles Villiers Stanford, and Hubert Parry. He is best known to the world as a composer of symphonies and large works for orchestra, sometimes with chorus, but he wrote in most genres. Unexpected for such a composer is his body of 21 hymn settings which are either harmonized or arranged from very old tunes, sometimes folk tunes, or are based on original tunes. He titled the original tune for the hymn text “Come down, O Love divine” as Down Ampney in recognition of his birthplace, Down Ampney located in Gloucestershire where his father, The Rev. Arthur Vaughan Williams, was vicar. He died in 1875 when Ralph was three years old. Through his mother, Ralph was the great great-grandson of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood, so he and his mother moved to the Wedgwood family home, Leith Hill, a country house built ca. 1600 in Surrey. He donated the historic house to the National Trust in 1944.

Simon Preston (B. 1938) was born in Bournemouth, England, and composes, conducts, and enjoys a stellar career as an international concert organist with many recordings produced by major labels. At Westminster Abbey, he was Organist and Master of the Choristers 1981-87 and had been sub-organist 1962-67, serving in the interim decade as tutor in music and organist of Christ Church, Oxford. The Alleyuas recorded here is his best-known work for organ, and is composed in the style of Olivier Messiaen. Perhaps his most widely heard compositions are those presented in the movie Amadeus as works of Antonio Salieri.
George Andrix (B. 1932) composes mostly for brass ensembles, though he is an accomplished and performing violist and violinist having played in such ensembles as the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Ithaca String Quartet, and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in Canada, where he has lived for many years. A native of Chicago, he holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in viola and composition from the University of Illinois, with continued study at Trinity College of Music in London, England. He has served on the faculties of Ithaca College and Morehead State University in Kentucky.

Jean Langlais (1907-1991), blinded by glaucoma at age 2, composed some 300 works 1927-1990, with a majority of them for organ. He also composed sacred choral works, orchestral and chamber music, and songs. His fame as an organist spread internationally from the organ console of the Basilica of St. Clotilde in Paris, where he was titulaire 1945-87, playing the same organ that was built for César Franck (1822-1890) and played by Franck's successor, Charles Tournemire (1870-1939). He toured widely as a concert organist in Europe and the United States. Nazard is one of ten works published in 1948 as Suite Française, Op. 59; and Chant de Paix appears in the collection Neuf Pièces, op. 40, published in 1944. Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) vastly affected musical composition in the 20th century, his works often provoking a profound and sometimes highly polarized reaction among listeners, whether the music emerges from the organ, orchestra, or most any other ensemble or instrument. Mystical and deeply religious, he was organist at La Trinité in Paris from 1931 until his death – longer than 60 years. Joie et Clarté is the sixth of seven visions of life after death and resurrection which comprise Messiaen’s work Les Corps Glorieux, published in 1939. Describing the sixth vision, Messiaen quotes St. Matthew 13:43, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” The resurrected shine through bluesy and jazzy notes and colorful harmonies. In fact, Messiaen perceived harmonies not only as sounds, but also as visual colors through the consequence of a rare neurological condition.

Eugène Gigout (1844-1925) is another French organist who gave long service at one church job – 1863 until his death, some 62 years – at St. Augustin in Paris, where he also became Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire in 1911. Prolific in composing for the organ, the popular Scherzo was published in 1892 in a collection of Dix Pièces.

Louis Vierne (1870-1937) composed Berceuse as one of “24 Pieces in Free Style” published in 1913. The Symphony No. 1 for Organ was published in 1899. Between the two publications, he had moved from the console of the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Sulpice in Paris, where he had been Widor's assistant since 1892, to the console of the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame, Paris, in 1900. Vierne experienced the sadly deteriorating condition of the magnificent organ and, despite the prestige of Notre-Dame and because little money was applied to its ongoing maintenance by the government and church officials who had (and have) joint charge of the building, he eventually undertook a series of recitals played in many places, including a U. S. tour in 1927, with an announced purpose of raising funds for the Notre-Dame organ. Nearly blind from birth, Vierne pursued prolific composition of organ, choral, chamber ensemble, and piano works, reportedly employing oversized manuscript paper and a wide-stroke pencil until his later years, when his sight had so deteriorated that he relied on Braille notation. Then as now, organ recitals in Notre-Dame drew large and appreciative crowds. Vierne played 1,750 recitals on the Notre-Dame organ during his 37-year tenure there. After playing the composed works in the recital of Wednesday, June 2, 1937, and before beginning the traditional improvisation on a submitted theme, he died at the console. Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897) was born in Alsace and, at the tender age of nine, was shipped off to Paris to enter the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse, where he studied with Eugène Gigout, who, childless, adopted him. He married Gigout's niece who was the daughter of the school's director. Thus well-placed, the talented and affable Boëllmann moved easily within the milieu of Parisian musicians, artists, and intellectuals, taking the sub-organist post at St. Vincent de Paul at age 19 and becoming in 1887 its titulaire organist for the rest of his short life. In 1895, two years before he died, the Suite Gothique was published and remains the best-known among his 160 compositions in all genres.

Fiesta!<BR>Maxine Thévenot celebrates the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta at the pipe organ of St. John\'s Cathedral <font color=red><I>\"Full of character and charm. . .\"</I> reviews <I>Choir & Organ</I></font>
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