I had the privilege of interviewing the performer on this CD, Marie-Claire Alain, brother of the composer Jehan Alain, in November 1999 while she was presenting workshops at the University of Kansas, just a month after she had recorded this CD. She explained to us that, while she had already recorded the (then known) complete Alain works in the 1970s, she had decided to record them again, not only because of previously-unknown works which have come to light since that recording was made, but because she wanted to document the sound of this music on the organs for which they were originally conceived. Volume 1 of this series features the organ of the Basilica of St-Ferjeux in Besançon, built with two manuals by J. B. Ghys in 1899, and expanded to three manuals by Bossier in 1930, under the guidance of Jehan Alain. Alain not only played the inaugural concert on the rebuilt organ, but spent many long hours on it afterwards, composing, and performing his works for friends. After the organ's scrupulous restoration by Cicchero in 1988, Marie-Claire Alain found that indeed, many registrations in the manuscripts of his works made perfect sense and ultimately came fully alive on this organ, which enjoys a particularly fine acoustical setting. Thus she was eager to share these discoveries with listeners. The sound engineering captures the organ and its acoustic quite well. Marie-Claire's playing reflects the latest research on this music, supplemented by her personal acquaintance with the composer and her memories of his own playing. It also has a certain "off-the-cuff" quality, sometimes with inexplicably fast tempi and occasionally questionable note-accuracy... and yet, this album is of such documentary importance that all lovers of Alain's music, and indeed, of all 20th-century French organ music, will want this disc.
See Timothy Tikker's review. He basically said it all. For those of us who know and love Mme. Alain's first complete recording of her brother's works, this new performance leads to many insights of a talented composer and beloved brother. Admittedly, I would have liked organs with steady wind...but that aside, the music sounds most interesting on each of the organs used in this two-volume set. The Alain family organ is heard for the first time (I think...) on a recording, and it is also interesting that we hear Mme. Alain play an electric-action organ at the Madaleine, on which she plays the Three Dances. This is haunting music with never a dull or ungrateful note. Love shines through this performance. If you ever know anyone who is practicing a work by Jehan Alain, or better, have the chance to attend a master class by Mme. Alain, you will learn even more about this music. It is well worth having any and all recordings of Jehan Alain's music as performed by his sister. I believe you will find this new set engaging and and a most rewarding listening experience.