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Remarkably, this is the 33rd volume of Hortus’s ongoing series of ‘Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre’. The present disc is a typically engaging collection of compositions written between 1914 and 1919, largely by French composers, but also including an unusually bombastic Pièce héroïque by the Dutch/ German Gerard Bunk and works from the Anglican world: Herbert Brewer’s Elegy and Healey Willan’s Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue. Sylvain Heili, a former pupil of Jean Boyer in Lyon and currently professor of organ in Douai, performs with great musicality and sensitivity on a particularly interesting child of the Alsatian organ reform: the III/64 Roethinger organ in Erstein. The organ sounds more German than French and is perhaps not a first choice for the Brewer and Willan (no big reed, of course). I was, nevertheless, charmed by the unusual clarinet (two ranks of flue pipes from treble G#) in the former and by the use of the Voix Humaine in the ghostly opening chords of the latter. The lack of a specification (a fascinating amalgam of French and German stylistic traits) and further commentary on the organ in the booklet is a real shame. Of the other repertoire I was particularly taken with the melancholic 11-minute Trauerzug by the Leipzig composer Paul Gerhardt, about whom neither the booklet nor Grove cast any light. The recorded sound is somewhat claustrophobic.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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