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L’Orgue Magnifique
Maxine Thévenot plays the 1933 E. M. Skinner, Girard College, Philadelphia
Fabulous Acoustics, Magnificent Sound, ". . . Sensational . . ." Reviews The American Organist
- [OAR-909]
$15.98

Reviews James Hildreth in The American Organist:
"Maxine Thévenot presents a powerful program on Ernest Skinner's magnificent creation at Girard College. . . . Thévenot's choice of works by Vierne for this program is fortuitous. His great admiration of the work of Ernest Skinner is well known, as documented in Jonathan Ambrosino's essay "Girard College and its Orgue Magnifique" in the program booklet. Vierne never heard the Girard organ, which remains basically intact, being the last grand organ in a grand space that Skinner produced with his company. It sounds splendid in this recording. The music thrives with Thévenot's superb playing and hier masterful manipulation of the instrument's myriad tonal colors. The combination of the unique, cavernous acoustic with the marvelous sounds of the instrument results in a sensational sonic experience. . . . Here is the opportunity to hear three exciting new works and some of Vierne's finest music, all splendidly performed on one of the world's most exciting instruments. Très magnifique!"

Victor Hill reviews in The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians:
"Our colleague Maxine opens with first recordings of three striking contemporary works and concludes with a series of less familiar music by Louis Vieme. The first is the Totentanz: Hommage a Peter Eben by the British-born Martin Stacey; it was commissioned by Choir & Organ magazine for internet publication and dedicated to Maxine. The work is energetic and virtuosic, displaying influences of Eben (whom Stacey admired) combined with original elements. A complete contrast is the Hesychia (Greek for peace or stillness) by the Canadian Jeanne Landry, a study in meditation and—on the part of the performer—exquisite control in continual pianissimo. The extended Dance by Canadian John Burge is, again, rhythmically intense and virtuosic. All of these pieces are well served by the IV/108 E. M. Skinner organ of 1931-33 in Girard College Chapel, Philadelphia. (The same instrument served Peter Sykes admirably for his transcription of Hoist's The Planets, reviewed here in November 2006.) The remainder of the program is devoted to works of Louis Vieme, beginning with three short pieces. Sur le Rhin is one of the less familiar of the 24 Pieces de Fantasie and not one that especially appeals to me, though it does express the mighty Rhine as it flows toward the sea. The Stele pour un enfant defunt (the last piece Vieme played before his fatal heart attack) and the Meditation (from Trois Improvisations) are more familiar; they receive especially sensitive performances here. The major work is the Third Symphony in the unusual key of F-sharp minor (I can think of only a few other works in this daunting key other than, of course, those in the WTC). Dating from 1911, a particularly turbulent period in the composer's life, it combines anger and passion with a search for consolation—ending in a triumphant blast at the final conclusion. Maxine plays with authority, solid technique, and an evident sympathy for the idiom. In my experience, this is one of the less frequently heard of the Vieme symphonies, and it is gratifying to have it in such a fine performance. The liner includes notes by David Gammie, a biography, an extensive discussion of the Girard organ and its connections with Skinner, session photos, and a stoplist. The recorded sound is clean and true.

Christopher Nickol writes four-star **** review in Choir & Organ:
"New works by Martin Stacey, Jeanne Landry and John Burge make an arresting and stunning opening to this CD with their adventurous harmonies and rhythmic energy, recalling Eben and Guillou. The better known pieces by Vierne, including the Third Symphony, receive excellent performances from Thévenot with well-judged tempos. The 4-manual, 99-stop Skinner organ is a typically grandiose Romantic affair. Its location in the chapel’s ceiling does mean that quiet passages are occasionally a little too distant. However, the well-blended tutti is thoroughly convincing and perfectly suited to the late-Romantic/modern idiom of Thévenot’s programme."


Craig Smith reviews in The Santa Fe New Mexican:
"American pipe-organ builder E. M. Skinner (1866-1960) crafted instruments ideal for the symphonic-organ repertoire of his day, but his legacy was distorted when many were cruelly 'improved' during the 20th century Baroque revival. This disc highlights one of the few to escape artistic fire and sword: the noble instrument in Philadelphia's immense Girard College Chapel. It remains a veritable orchestra of one for those able to master it. Fortunately, Thévenot — Associate Organist-Choir Director at Albuquerque's Cathedral of St. John — is one of the elect. As earlier Raven recordings have shown, her technique is formidable and her musical instincts good, and she gracefully plays both large-scaled and intimate repertoire here. She projects Louis Vierne's brooding, thickly chromatic Symphony No 3 in F-sharp minor, boring in the wrong hands, with unusual clarity, while Sur le Rhin from Pièces de Fantaisie exudes sun-shot nobility through its wall of dark, massive sound. The introspective Méditation and touching Stèle pour un enfant défunt give Thévenot the chance to reveal and revel in the instrument's quieter, rainbow-hued palette. Martin Stacey's 2007 Totentanz (Hommage à Petr Eben), dedicated to Thévenot, proves to be a cacophonic yet persuasive dance of devilish delight, stunningly played. Raven's technical staff keep the chapel's ponderous acoustic on a judicious rein; but even so, this one will put your speakers to the test."


Maxine Thévenot plays Louis Vierne’s entire third symphony and three more Vierne works on the great masterpiece built in the acoustical splendor of Girard College Chapel, Philadelphia, in 1933 by E. M. Skinner, whose organs Vierne greatly admired. The program also includes three first recordings of recently composed works by three Canadian and British composers that further reveal the Girard Skinner as “L’Orgue Magnifique.”

The famous Skinner organ at Girard College Chapel represents the last great organ in a superb acoustical space built directly under the supervision of Ernest M. Skinner to remain intact, a monument to Skinner’s late tonal evolution under the challenge of by-then rival G. Donald Harrison. For this CD, recording engineer Ed Kelly, aided by Mark Willey, recreated and expanded upon the technique Kelly used to create Raven’s earlier, landmark recording on the Girard College organ of The Planets by Gustav Holst as transcribed and played by Peter Sykes. The CD booklet includes an explanation by Jonathan Ambrosino of the organ’s and building’s creation, and an excellent essay on the music by David Gammie.

An admirer of Skinner organs, Vierne wrote to Ernest Skinner in March, 1928, following an American concert tour, “Not a day passes that I don’t dream about your magnificent instruments that I played over there; their marvelous touch, their fine tone, their perfect and sensitive action haunt me… I also very often recall the visit to your factory in Boston; what I saw there sends me into rapture…”

Maxine Thévenot is associate organist-choral director of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Albuquerque, and director of the women’s choir at the University of New Mexico where she is a member of the faculty. She appears on several earlier recordings, including the solo organ CD “Without Boundaries,” released in 2006.

A champion of new organ music of high quality, Thévenot also plays on this new CD, previously unrecorded works by fellow Canadians Jeanne Landry (b. 1922) and John Burge (b. 1961), and opens the CD with the energetic and virtuosic Totentanz, Hommage à Petr Eben, by Englishman Martin Stacey (b. 1975). Landry’s peaceful Hesychia follows, then Burge’s rhythmically compelling and playful Dance for organ derives from his choral work entitled Thank you God (1992).

LOUIS VIERNE (1870-1937): Symphony No. 3 in F-sharp minor, Op. 28
LOUIS VIERNE: Méditation (Trois Improvisations)
LOUIS VIERNE: Stèle pour un enfant défunt (Triptyque, Op. 58)
LOUIS VIERNE: Sur le Rhin (Pièces de fantaisie, Op. 54)
MARTIN STACEY (b. 1975): Totentanz (Hommage à Petr Eben)*
JEANNE LANDRY (b. 1922): Hesychia*
JOHN BURGE (b. 1961): Dance*

*first recording

L’Orgue Magnifique<font color=red><BR>Maxine Thévenot plays the 1933 E. M. Skinner, Girard College, Philadelphia<BR><I>Fabulous Acoustics, Magnificent Sound, \". . . Sensational . . .\" Reviews</I> The American Organist</font>
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