the organ works of Rachel Laurin

Canadian organists and lovers of organ music alike will be thrilled with a 2011 CD recording by Acis Productions featuring the work of two outstanding Canadian musicians. It consists of selected organ works by the Canadian composer Rachel Laurin, played by the bri Canadian organists and lovers of organ music alike will be thrilled with a 2011 CD recording by Acis Productions featuring the work of two outstanding Canadian musicians. It consists of selected organ works by the Canadian composer Rachel Laurin, played by the brilliant young Canadian concert organist Isabelle Demers. Rachel’s position as one of Canada’s greatest living composers of organ music is well known to us all, and Isabelle Demers is rapidly being recognized as one of Canada’s best and brightest performers on the organ.

The CD was recorded in L’Église des Saints-Anges de Lachine (Montréal), which houses the historic four-manual Casavant Opus 869 (dating from 1921, restored between 2001 – 06). The programme, brilliantly balanced, consists centrally of Laurin’s massive Symphonie no. 1 (Op. 36) surrounded by the Douzes courtes pieces (Op. 43) in two groups of six miniatures each, while the recording is opened and closed with two other major pieces, the Introduction et passacaille sur un thème de Raymond Daveluy (Op. 44) and the Étude Héroïque (Op. 38). At very nearly seventy-six minutes in length, this CD is very good value for money!

The Symphonie, at thirty minutes playing time, takes up nearly half of the CD and is a triumphant success. From the mysterious opening of the first-movement Prélude, through the Scherzo, Aria, and Toccata, Isabelle Demers shows her complete grasp of the dramatic depths of this work. The Toccata, composed before the rest of the Symphonie  and perhaps inspiring its general form, certainly provides Demers with a wonderful opportunity to display her virtuosic playing, though perhaps an even more enjoyable part of the performance is the charmingly limpid playing in the Scherzo. The full range of the Casavant organ’s enormous registration capacity is demonstrated with complete control by Demers in the enormous Prélude.

In Laurin’s own words about the Introduction et Passacaille: “Through this musical homage, one can see an evocative portrait of the rich personality of M. Daveluy, as well as the reflection of a full artistic life.” Demers brilliantly presents the stirring combination of enormous chords and chromatic pedal solos which make up the Introduction, and which return again at the end of the Passacaille. The theme, taken from Daveluy’s Quatrième Sonate pour orgue  is presented at the opening of the Passacaille, and leads into the twenty-one variations of the Passacaille which show off all the powers of the organ. Both Laurin and Demers emphasize the Regeresque qualities of this work in their programme notes.

The Douzes courtes pièces, which are charming miniatures, were composed to be played in smaller moments in services or recitals. From the evocative meditative feel of the Invocation, played on the flutes, to the boisterous jollity of the Rondo, each of these twelve pieces is approachable by players and audiences alike, and will serve well as voluntaries or as short concert pieces; only two of these short pieces exceed three minutes in length each, and four of them are fugues.

The Étude Héroïque which closes this CD, composed in 2004, is perhaps the most often-performed of these works. Again, planned as a programme to balance the opening work of the CD, the massive chords of the opening are followed by an extensive pedal solo, while the melodic mid-section leads into an exciting episodic development. Demers’ brilliant and fluent performance effectively displays the layering effects of the registration, and the full organ which closes the piece demonstrates its heroic ending.

The CD cover and booklet contain many photographs of the interior and exterior of the church and of the organ of L’Église des Saints-Anges, which happily was Demers’s first practice organ and still remains her favourite practice organ when she is in Montréal. Having studied at the Montréal Conservatoire, she studied in Paris for a year before completing her Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the Juilliard School in New York. She is about to release a recording of Max Reger’s Seven Chorale Fantasies, on a grant from the Theodore Presser Foundation.

The informative programme notes to this Acis CD are written by both Rachel Laurin and Isabelle Demers and are fully bilingual, except for the one page describing the Casavant organ which is printed only in French; the full specifications of the organ are listed.

I highly recommend this recording, which displays not only a virtuosic organist in Isabelle Demers, but a highly contrasting selection of organ works by the always exciting composer Rachel Laurin.
Frances McDonnell, Pipeline (Ottawa RCCO Chapter)

À 29 ans, Isabelle Demers est une des plus brillantes organistes canadiennes de sa génération. Détentrice d’un doctorat en musique de Juilliard, elle en est à son deuxième enregistrement qui vient de paraître chez Acis (APL61256). Consacré entièrement à la musique de Rachel Laurin (née en 1961), ce disque est une réussite totale : une interprétation pleine de feu par une organiste hors-normes, qui met en valeur tant la musique de la compositrice que le bel orgue Casavant (4 claviers et pédalier, 65 jeux) de l’église des Saints-Anges de Lachine.

Rachel Laurin , disciple de Raymond Daveluy, est l’auteure de près de 20 titres pour orgue, qui, malgré une écriture savante et de nombreux défis lancés aux interprètes, restent toujours accessibles au grand public. Sur ce disque, Isabelle Demers nous fait découvrir quatre œuvres composées par Laurin entre 2003 et 2006. Dès les premières notes de l’imposante Introduction et passacaille sur un thème de Raymond Daveluy, op. 44, fortement marquée par Franck, Liszt et Reger, Isabelle Demers s’impose par sa fabuleuse virtuosité tant aux claviers qu’au pédalier. Les Douze courtes pièces op. 43 nous transportent dans un univers souvent modal, plus intimiste, plus délicat, et toujours joliment coloré (Trumpet Tune, Choral et variations). La Symphonie n°1, op. 36, en quatre mouvements, prend le relais de celles de Vierne, et s’aligne, dans la Toccata conclusive, sur celle de la 5e Symphoniede Widor. Quant à l’Étude héroïque op. 38, elle fut composée pour le Concours d’orgue de Québec 2004 et fait désormais partie du répertoire de concert.

La notice du disque comprend une entrevue avec Rachel Laurin et des commentaires signés Isabelle Demers. Un disque à se procurer absolument!
Irène Brisson, Bulletin des Amis de l’orgue de Québec

the new and the old

“definitely a talent to watch, to hear…[the Fugue from Reger’s Op. 73] a masterful score, here masterfully played…”Michael Barone, Pipedreams, American Public Media September 6, 2010

This CD’s title ‘The Old and the New’ reflects Isabelle Demers’s intention of making full use of the colouristic possibilities of modern organs such as the 1995 IV/67 Marcussen at Tonbridge School. In Bach’s D Major Prelude & Fugue BWV 532 there are enough stop changes to upset the purists, but Demers’s supreme musicianship makes her performance thoroughly convincing. She’s equally accomplished in her stunning arrangement of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and her virtuosic account of Reger’s op. 73 variations. Her imaginative and colourful use of the organ is well captured by the recording engineers.Christopher Nickol, Choir & Organ


‘Isabelle Demers at the organ is a force of nature – a diminutive dynamo . . .’ So proclaim the sleeve notes of this highly engaging disc. Recorded on the wonderfully clear-sounding Marcussen organ of Tonbridge School, the programme springs into action with an energetic – but not rushed – performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532. The articulation is smart and there are some cheeky changes of manual in the fugue that bring out the humour of this virtuosic piece. Isabelle Demer’s own arrangement of movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet are exciting, expressive and successful, exploiting the range of colours offered by the Tonbridge organ. Does the artist see something of herself in The Young Juliet with its contrasting impetuous and pensive moods? Reger’s Introduction, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme Op. 73 are profound and searching, and demonstrate the depth and breadth of Isabelle Demers’ musicianship. I should like to hear more of her playing.Christopher Maxim, Church Music Quarterly, the RSCM house magazine.

*** (highest)

CD of the month

The instrument serves Demers and her repertoire well, projecting the Reger in particular with great clarity. Acis’s recorded sound is superb…

If you’re looking for an organ disc to rattle the rafters and shake the floor boards, this one should do quite nicely…Demers’s judicious choice of stops and her exceptionally clean voicing, aided by Acis’s clear, tightly focused recording, make for very satisfying modern Bach played in the manner of organists like Simon Preston and Michael Murray.

No comparison is to be made for Demers’s own arrangement of seven numbers from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, for this is an entirely unique creation. It certainly puts the Marcussen organ through its paces and highlights the artist’s technical skills, both as performer and arranger…

Max Reger’s Variations, and Fugue on an Original Theme in F♯-Minor…the music is a kaleidoscope through which pass the bent and broken rays of Bach’s virtuosic organ preludes and toccatas, alternating with fragmentary bits and pieces from his quieter, contemplative chorale preludes. It’s quite a dizzying display to listen to…I found it spellbinding….

This is a brilliantly played program and a superbly produced CD. Demers has my ear, and she should yours too. Organ lovers, revel.Carson Cooman, and Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine