Turbulent Heart

Marc Rochester
Gramophone (UK)

Editor’s Choice

‘This was a complete surprise and left me fairly stunned. Who knew that Louis Vierne, thought of (by me, at any rate) as an elegant rather than sensationalist composer, could deliver such high drama as features here? Guillaume Tourniaire, his Queensland forces and Steve Davislim—and not least fabulous sound from Melba Records—turn this into a sonic blockbuster in every way.’

James Inverne

A side to Vierne we rarely see and a tenor and orchestra in top form

Here is a side of Louis Vierne few of us will have encountered before: angry, bitter, vengeful and simply bursting with passion and high emotion. As the excellent notes that come with this attractively packaged disc point out, Vierne had every reason to feel angry, bitter and vengeful. But while we may be inclined to say ‘poor old Vierne’ when we read of his blindness, messy divorce, turbulent affairs of the heart and so on, we should privately rejoice that personal adversity gave rise to such inspired music. For make no mistake, in his more familiar guise as a composer for the organ, Vierne may not usually be associated with such super-charged emotions, but, boy, does he shine creatively when his bile is up. These are four brilliantly crafted songs with almost Wagnerian orchestral accompaniments which are dazzlingly reflected in performances of breathtaking intensity.

The immediate inclination with the Vierne songs is to compare them—highly favourably—with those of his German contemporaries, Mahler and Strauss. But there is a noble tradition of French song with orchestral accompaniment, and the impressive French conductor, Guillaume Tourniaire, chooses Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer as a companion piece. Certainly Australian tenor Steve Davislim is every bit as impressive here as in the Vierne—and this is highly distinguished singing by any reckoning—while the Queensland Orchestra, on absolutely cracking form, clearly relish the opulence of Chausson’s orchestral textures, not least towards the end of the first movement where we get a bracing dose of La mer. But the net result of these fervently inspired performances and the generous and fulsome recorded sound is to emphasise the astonishing emotional potency of Vierne’s songs above Chausson’s more colour-oriented writing.

On every count, this is a magnificent release. It is also a truly revelatory one, not least in highlighting the outstanding work being done by this distinguished Australian label.

Marc Rochester