Famous organs of France (part 2 of 2)

St Maximilian

“Je vous laisse la porte ouvert: venez en haut apres la Messe” : the 86 year -old Pierre Bardon’s unhesitating welcome was as simple as that . Up we went yet again though the stone steps in this fine Basilica, whose West Front still lacks a facade to complete its intended architecture, were easy to negotiate. Onwards and upwards till we emerged next the towering instrument . We rounded the final corner to the sound of the deep pedal reed pronouncing the final entry of Bach’ s great C major Fugue.

The initiator of this remarkable ascending musical line , was tucked into the centre of this beautiful organ case. Our genial host is white haired ; he is wearing a grey woollen cardigan. He welcomes us warmly and immediately begins his introduction to the geography of this mighty creation , drawing out in turn the slightly floppy wooden stop handles , so long you could nearly imagine hanging your washing on them ( they reminded me of the wires for this purpose stretching outside the windows of Edinburgh tenements).
The moment the full family of reeds were extended I asked to play Father Sebastian Wolff’s noble ‘Fanfare for Holy Saturday ‘. Sure enough, the rasping reeds did it justice!
On now to my favourite Bach Chorale Prelude ” Ich ruf’ zu Dir , Herr Jesu Christ ” with the melodic line perfectly picked out by the ‘ Voix Humaine ‘aided by the Tremulant: a husky Callas would have approved!
More fun for me with Father Sebastian’s ‘Carillon ‘ , the trumpets and accompanying brilliant and gleaming chorus of mixtures faring well balance -wise, in this most generous acoustic .
In all this Monsieur Bardon plays a full part, deciding to turn my pages and from the expression on his face, I am told later, living every note.
But the grand finale is when I produce Bach’s great ‘ Piece d’Orgue ‘ ! Pierre Bardon’s face takes on an almost mischievous gleam , saying to me how he discovered a new and unusual registration 25 years ago to which he has adhered ever since.

Inside the organ of St Maximilian

Off I set on the Positif manual producing sparkling sounds behind me , moving upwards for the noble ‘Grave ‘section.The richest of Bach ‘s harmonic juxtapositions reign here , the music exploring confidently, yet despite occasional glances backwards, pacing inexorably forwards until having made its great points decides to head for the summit. Here , supporting from underneath the fully-illuminated five -part textures enters the magnificent , almost unbelievable pedal reed , rising stepwise like a giant higher and higher -and higher still and when virtually overwhelmed by this resulting effect the player drops swiftly an octave to gain strength for the penultimate cadence : a shattering diminished seventh chord !
What next , ‘we ask in the silence’?

Pierre Bardon is very busy pushing in the reeds and selecting exquisite bubbly flutes for Bach’s coda which I play on the gentle positif manual, over a constantly-repeated alternate crotchet /rest/ quaver pattern on the pedal . Only to encounter one more surprise : we reduce to a single wooden flute for the last bars and it’s satisfying concluding decorated final cadence.But before our final physical descent down those stone stairs yet another surprise: in behind a wooden panel ,on the interior West Wall behind the great bellows of the organ are frescos older than this instrument.

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