Reviews

“…ce disque est une réussite totale…
“This CD is a complete (total) success”

…Isabelle Demers s’impose par sa fabuleuse virtuosité tant aux claviers qu’au pédalier…
“Isabelle Demers imposes herself by her fabulous pedal and manuals virtuosity”

…intimiste, plus délicat, et toujours joliment coloré… 
“intimate, more delicate, and always beautifully colored”

…Un disque à se procurer absolument!”
“This CD must (absolutely) be bought”

Bulletin des Amis de l’orgue de Québec, October 2011

Biographical information in the convention program about Canadian recitalist Isabelle Demers described her appropriately as a “diminutive dynamo.” Her recital, held at Old St Patrick Roman Catholic Church, featured a Lively-Fulcher organ in a room with excellent acoustics. The organ spoke with the French accent much of Demers’ program demanded.

Framing the program were the opening and closing movements of the First Organ Symphony of fellow French Canadian Rachel Laurin – a work strongly influenced by the French organ school as exemplified by such composers as Vierne, and Dupré. Between these were works by Herbert Howells, Siegfried Karg-Elert, and Vierne. Demers showed a masterful control of registration, always using stops that sounded just right for the music and making changes of registration seem utterly effortless, never interfering with the natural rhythmic flow of the music. This was especially evident in her performance of a Psalm Prelude by Howells.

The work by Karg-Elert, his Symphonic Chorale on Jesu, meine Freude, is in three sections. The fist, subtitled “Inferno,” was noteworthy for its tormented, tempestuous mood. The quiet middle section contrasted with lyric reed solos. In the concluding movement, a fugal beginning paved the way for a triumphant conclusion. Vierne was represented by the Scherzo from his Second Symphony, the only highly familiar work on Demers’ program.The entire recital was played from memory and certainly must rate
as one of the outstanding events of the convention.
Paul Barte, The American Organist, October 2010

“For me, Isabelle Demers’ memorized recital was one of the most memorable recitals of the convention. St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was a perfect venue for her program: Prélude from First Symphony, op. 36 by Rachel Laurin; Three Psalm Preludes, op. 32, Set 1, No. 2, by Herbert Howells; Symphonic Chorale on “Jesu, meine Freude,” op. 87/2, Introduzione (inferno), Canzone, Fuga con Corale, by Karg-Elert; Organ Symphony No. 2, op. 20, by Louis Vierne; Scherzo and Toccata from First Symphony, op. 36 by Rachel Laurin. Demers made each work her own, investing herself in the music, from Howells’s quiet lyricism to Karg-Elert’s diabolical roar. Her brilliant technique served always to make the music soar. This gift was especially apparent in Rachel Laurin’s Toccata. The audience was dazzled by her magnificent performance.”
Marijim Thoene, The Diapason, January 2011

On a cold autumn night like that of November 19th 2010, there’s nothing better than to sit in a beautiful church and listen to Isabelle Demers playing the pipe organ. In the second of four Pro-Organo concerts she explored a sweep of organ works focusing most heavily on the 19th and 20th centuries. Demers opened the evening with the Prelude and Fugue St. Anne (BWV 552) from Bach. It was powerful, moving, delivering a powerful punch from the beginning. From the front of the basilica the sound felt well balanced; Demers worked easily with the grandiose acoustics of the basilica so that just enough sound would ring between the phrases. She moved quickly into two pieces by jazz composer Henry Martin. These Preludes (5 and 7) were startling in contrast to Bach, evoking simple melodies before breaking out into ‘jazzy’ rhythms (a cornet with Tremulant). They made the concert elegant – the audience was never really sure what would come next. The final piece before the intermission was a Fantaisie and Choral (op.52/2) based on Wachet Auf by German composer Max Reger. A vibrant example of program music, the piece was a unique blend of Wagnerian darkness with the finesse of the Baroque (although, as Demers puts it, “Bach with wrong notes!”). There were many subtleties to the piece, as well as energizing bits, ending with triumph ringing through the church Elgar’s Allegro Maestoso (from Sonata in G) followed the intermission, setting the audience swiftly back into the mood. The next piece was a highlight of the performance: Demers’ own transcriptions of the Prokofiev ballet Romeo and Juliet, pulling excerpts from across the score in a brash, yet sweet, interpretation of Shakespeare’s beloved drama. It was the perfect blend of music: concise in presentation, artistic in registration, and as fluid as a ballet. For the end of the program Demers delivered an impossibly fast rendition of Laurin’s Toccata from Symphonie No.1; it was aching to watch her hands racing up and down the keys before an abrupt ending that left the audience wanting more. After the thunderous applause, Demers danced the audience out the door with Tchaikovsky’s March of the Toy Soldiers.

From the Royal Canadian College of Organists, Ottawa Centre publication, Pipelines

Isabelle Demers’ performance at Trinity College Chapel (10-16-09) was a
delight to behold.

Reports of her commanding technique were, if anything, understated. Her
brilliant technical gifts were always applied in the service of the
music and towards communicating to her listeners. And, does she ever!

Her use of the organ’s resources were highly imaginative and her
performance of Reger’s Hallelujah, Gott zu loben, was the most exciting
and lucid performance I have ever heard of this work.

Our organs students were inspired by her performance and the friendly
interactions she had with them during her stay on campus.
John Rose (Trinity College, Hartford)

I have been meaning to email you all week, but have wanted to get my words
just right. I couldn’t possibly have been more pleased with Isabelle
Demers and her concert here at Boston Avenue. Isabelle was brilliant in
every respect. She left organists’ jaws on the floor with her boundless
technique, passionate musical expression, and rare ability to make
complicated forms absolutely transparent. In addition, we were
incredulous at her command of the organ. She registered very complex
pieces on an unfamiliar instrument in a short amount of time. She then
played incredibly well for ninety minutes without a note of music, making
effortless piston/stop changes and even memory level changes within works.

Perhaps most important, the nonorganists in the audience couldn’t get
enough of Isabelle; they were amazed and delighted with her playing and
have not stopped talking about her. Her spoken words communicated
directly to them and revealed a keen sense of humor as well as a most
charming personality.

Without a doubt, this is a career that I will enthusiastically follow!
Thank you for helping us bring Isabelle Demers to Boston Avenue. We are
grateful!
Susan Panciera (Boston Avenue Methodist, Tulsa)

The abbey is not yet back to normal after the wonderful whirlwind sensation of having Isabelle making gorgeous music among us. Not only did she make the organ speak, she made it dance, and sing, the likes of which I have not heard here in a long time. Older male organists in your stable had better look out. She is dynamite.
The audience members seemed to take turns in jumping out of their seats every time she took a bow. She was forced to give an encore, from Prok’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Luckily, Michael Barone caught the whole thing, plus interview, on his magic digital tape deck.
As far as fitting into the abbey’s all male, grey haired, elderly mileau she wowed these gentlemen with her ready wit and charm.
She is a “keeper” as far as I am concerned. She is invited back as soon as I can fit her in in a season or two. I mean that.
It is going to take a while to get the “Saint Anne” Prelude thematics out of my system. It will dance around a little while more, given that the concert was two days ago.
All I can say at the moment is “WOW.”
Father Bart Agar (St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere):

Isabelle Demers jouait dimanche pour la troisième année consécutive dans la série estivale d’orgue de la basilique Notre-Dame, invitée cette fois à donner le récital de clôture à la place du titulaire Pierre Grandmaison. Celui-ci doit prendre un repos de deux mois pendant lequel Mme Demers le remplacera à la console. La jeune organiste de 27 ans a d’ailleurs quitté le poste qu’elle occupait dans une église du Connecticut et revient à Montréal tout en poursuivant son doctorat à Juilliard avec Paul Jacobs.
La forte impression laissée par ses deux précédents passages à Notre-Dame lui avait valu un auditoire de quelque 250 personnes, ce qui est considérable pour un récital d’orgue un dimanche de chaleur extrême.
On l’a de nouveau constaté, Bach reste encore la façon la plus convaincante d’ouvrir un programme d’orgue. Mme Demers avait choisi le colossal Prélude et Fugue en mi bémol BWV 552, intercalant quelques pièces entre les deux volets, comme c’est l’usage. Le Prélude est l’un des très rares exemples où Bach indique des dynamiques – ici, quatre «piano» et quatre «forte», que l’organiste souligna d’une façon un peu fantaisiste. Étrange aussi, son tempo très lent pour la Fugue. Ce Bach n’en demeura pas moins grandiose parce que riche de ces anches de Notre-Dame suggérant un orgue baroque, alors que les timbres chauds d’un Psalm-Prelude du Britannique Herbert Howells illustraient cet orgue romantique qu’est aussi le Casavant de la place d’Armes.
Comme à ses deux précédents récitals, Isabelle Demers avait programmé du Reger, cette fois l’Introduction et Passacaille op. 63 nos 5 et 6, qu’elle fit suivre de la Chaconne et Fugue op. 31 no 3 de la Montréalaise Rachel Laurin. Une registration de jeux isolés et de mélanges contrastants souligna les similitudes entre les deux formes, passacaille et chaconne, et entre les thèmes utilisés par les deux compositeurs à un siècle d’intervalle.
Fin de programme tumultueux avec Dieu parmi nous, dernière des neuf pièces de cette Nativité du Seigneur d’un Messiaen qui n’a pas encore 30 ans. Ici, rien d’une gentille prière. Plutôt, une gigantesque toccata qui «éclate comme la foudre». La description, de Messiaen lui-même, s’applique tout à fait à la réalisation de la délicate organiste.
Ovationnée par l’auditoire debout, elle revint à Bach pour son rappel: Fugue en ré majeur, BWV 532.
Isabelle Demers: une autre réussite
Claude Gingras, La Presse, 25 août 2009

La jeune femme nous revenait dimanche avec un autre programme accordant une part importante à Max Reger, de toute évidence l’un de ses compositeurs de prédilection. Cette fois encore, elle montra une solide connaissance des ressources sonores et «orchestrales» du vaste Casavant à traction électropneumatique du lieu.
Reger monopolisait les trois premières pièces. La Fantaisie et Fugue en ré mineur, op. 135b, de 1916, dernière grande oeuvre pour orgue du compositeur mort cette année-là, était jouée dans sa version définitive amputée (par Reger) d’une quarantaine de mesures. L’organiste la traversa avec une constante clarté de lignes, y compris dans la complexe double fugue où une registration neutre, volontairement sans couleur, soulignait le «dodécaphonisme» du premier sujet.
Deux transcriptions de Reger encadraient l’op. 135b. Saint François de Paule marchant sur les flots, de Liszt, déjà très descriptif dans l’original pour piano, prenait une saisissante mobilité sous les claviers de l’orgue, alors que quatre inventions à deux voix, pour clavecin, de Bach étaient transposées en autant de couleurs différentes.
Le grand moment du récital reste cependant la vertigineuse Fantaisie et Fugue sur le choral Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, la plus longue des oeuvres pour orgue de Liszt. En dépit de très légers problèmes de technique, la jeune organiste en signa une réalisation absolument grandiose, registrant différemment chacune des 27 variations – exemple: d’éclatantes chamades pour la fanfare rythmique de la 6e variation – sans jamais perdre de vue le thème unique.
Mais c’était folie que d’ajouter quoi que ce soit à un tel éblouissement. Je suis donc parti pendant le petit morceau additionnel, préférant demeurer sur l’impression du Ad nos.
Isabelle Demers: éblouissant
Claude Gingras, La Presse, 12 août 2008

“Demers’s technical and musical dexterity proved that the next generation of organists is well capable of carrying the profession forward.”
(The American Organist)

“Consummate musicianship.”(The Diapason)

“The concert was superb! We were riveted! Isabelle Demers-integrity, virtuosity, and charm.” (Suzanne T. Purtee, Church of the Nativity, Huntsville AL, presenter)

“Great virtuosity, panache, and musical sensibility.” (Lehigh Valley Chapter AGO, Russell Jackson, presenter)

“Her virtuosic performance combined bold rhythmic drive with the sensitivity of a refined musicianship and a passionate, colorful interpretation of the music. She is an engaging and impressive young talent who is destined for a brilliant career.” (Suffolk NY Chapter AGO, Deanna Muro, presenter)

“I don’t believe I have enough superlatives to describe Isabelle’s performance…What a great afternoon! Marvelous playing; superb, judicious registration of the vast tonal resources, rubato in the right places. This was a concert that would make the audience want to return for another.” (Neil Carlson, audience member in Newark NJ, 2009)
“Her performance was stellar. Hers is the kind of performance that leaves the listener breathless.” (Bob & Jan Bittner, audience members in Hartford CT)

“Her performance at the AGO 2008 national convention surprised and delighted the crowd of 2,000. Her composure, conviction, and compelling musicianship held the audience spellbound.”
(Michael Barone, Pipedreams host)

“All that anyone could hope for. Her technique was flawless. She played with incredible energy, registered imaginatively, and her musicianship was of the highest order.” (Donald Ingram, Program Committee, Eastern New York Chapter, AGO)

“Isabelle displayed all of the majesty, fire, and sweep that music of truly epic proportions demands….Isabelle’s blazing technique, always in the service of good taste, meticulously reinforces the unrestrained passion which she brings to her music…the sort of performer who is invited back again and again.” (Paul Dixon, St. Petersburg College, Florida, presenter)

“Isabelle Demers is tiny but mighty! She has it all-exciting technique, awesome artistry, refreshing charm, and an incredible gift for arranging and transcribing.” (Rebecca Ogle, Neighborhood Church, Palos Verdes Estates CA, presenter)

“Not only does Isabelle Demers give outstanding performances of the great works for organ, but she makes challenging transcriptions of some of the popular works for large orchestra, which uniquely enliven her recital programs.” (Robert W. Miller, Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay CA, presenter)

“The Astonishing Isabelle Demers…much more than a perfect performance; she brought to that technical perfection a rare spirit of adventure, daring, and deep conviction, seeming to manufacture whole worlds before our eyes and spiritual imaginations. It’s as if she took it upon herself to re-establish, this night and once and for all, that the organ remains today what it was in Machaut’s time–the reigning king of all instruments. She fully succeeded.” (Jeffrey Tucker, posted on ChantCafe.com)

Tout un concert que celui d’Isabelle Demers, donné le 30 mars dernier aux Saints-Martyrs-Canadiens : la jeune organiste montréalaise a présenté son programme de mémoire, manoeuvrant seule, avec une aisance incroyable, le prestigieux instrument, comme si elle le connaissait depuis toujours! C’est de façon grandiose et orchestrale qu’elle a joué le Prélude et Fugue en mi bémol majeur de Bach, dans lequel elle a inséré la processionnelle cantate funèbre BWV 118 pour choeur et instruments à vent. Sous ses doigts, un vent de fraîcheur et d’audace dans la registration a parcouru le Prélude, fugue et variation de César Franck, interprété avec une infinie poésie. La Suite op.5 de Duruflé et son hallucinante Toccata, de même que l’imposante Fantaisie de Reger sur le choral Wachet auf ont confirmé son immense talent. Avec son style personnel, sa technique très solide, Isabelle Demers est, à 26 ans, une artiste hors normes, j’oserais dire, hors concours! (Irène Brisson, Bulletin des Amis de l’orgue de Québec)

“To the best of my knowledge, this is Isabelle Demers’s first solo album. She previously played on a single track, Digital Loom, for an eponymously titled disc of electronic pieces by Mason Bates. The new CD at hand carries the title The New and the Old, which Demers explains in her booklet note as a reference to “three composers who, far from shunning the past, chose to embrace and reinvent l’ancien.” I’m not sure exactly what is meant by that, but it would surely seem an unusual program that makes common cause between Bach, Reger, and Prokofiev; or perhaps not. The case for Reger is an easy one. He spent much of his short life emulating Bach through the prism of late 19th- and early 20th-century free chromaticism and extended tonality, dying at 43, reportedly from a heart attack induced by overindulgence in food and drink. Personally, I think it was fugue poisoning.
The case for Prokofiev is a bit more difficult to make, though in his ballet score to Romeo and Juliet, it could be argued that some of the biting bitonality he employed to portray the feuding Montagues and Capulets does effectively recreate the ancien 16th-century setting in which the play takes place.
All of this, however, is little more than preamble—foreplay, really—to a very fine recital by an exciting young artist, playing the magnificent 1995 Marcussen & Son organ in the Chapel of St. Augustine at Tonbridge School in Kent. I’m no organ expert, but based on the specifications given in the accompanying booklet this is no small instrument, especially by this maker. Said to be the largest Marcussen in the southeast of England, it’s a four-manual tracker-action instrument with 4,830 pipes and 66 speaking stops, including two 32’ stops. In other words, if you’re looking for an organ disc to rattle the rafters and shake the floor boards, this one should do quite nicely.
But that is secondary—or at least it should be—to the performances. Of uncertain date, but most likely from his Weimar period (1708–17), Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, is one of his most often played and best-known organ works. The prelude, episodic in nature with its sectional alternations in keyboard and pedal figurations and rapid changes in registration and texture, is suggestive of Buxtehude, which jibes with Demers’s assertion that the piece belongs to the composer’s very early Weimar years. 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. I was struck by how often some of these numbers, like “Romeo at the Fountain” and “The Duke’s Command,” arranged in this way for solo organ, reminded me of isolated passages from Poulenc’s Organ Concerto. It’s hardly surprising given that Prokofiev crossed paths with Poulenc in Paris, and though he was loath to admit much of a friendship with the French composer, the score to Romeo and Juliet was, I believe, the last major work he wrote in Paris (1935–36) before returning to the Soviet Union. Poulenc’s Organ Concerto was taking shape at the same time (1934–38); and while I’m not suggesting that one directly influenced the other, Prokofiev was most assuredly aware of the activities of Les Six, of which Poulenc was a member.

Max Reger’s Variations, and Fugue on an Original Theme in F♯-Minor has not been one of the composer’s more popular works. Still, it has managed to garner four other recordings, none of which, I’m sorry to say, I’ve heard. Composed in 1903, the piece was branded “crazy and completely unplayable,” a score in which “there is more ink than paper.” Demers calls it Reger’s “wildest work for organ,” and I wouldn’t contradict her. To my ear, 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, but being one who actually likes Reger, I found it spellbinding. And while I can’t tell you if Demers plays it as well as or better than Gerd Zacher, Willem Tanke, Martin Wetzel, or Bernard Hass, I can say that she sounds mighty impressive.

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

“The piece ends with a pounding, toccata-like section that enlisted the virtuosic fingers and feet of Isabelle Demers, a terrific organist.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Former D.J. Bates finds a variety of wide-ranging sonorities for the organ from spare, Sunday Evening Club spiritual passages to grandiose E. Power Biggs chords and blinding bravura in the latter sections, all played with bracing virtuosity by organist Isabelle Demers.” (Chicago Classical Review)

‘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, CMQ)

“And for me, the high point of the convention was a recital that certainly suggested the best of times. You must hear Isabelle Demers make music. This brilliant young artist is a musician’s musician. There can be no assembly more critical of organ playing than a convention of organbuilders, but the ovation that followed her performance was powerful and sincere. There was a remarkable level of energy and enthusiasm in the buses heading back to the hotel as conventioneers expressed their delight and amazement. It was said more than once that if there will be artists like Ms. Demers around to play organs, then we had better keep building beautiful instruments. (John Bishop, The Diapason)

“Demers’s supreme musicianship makes her performance thoroughly convincing….virtuosic.” (Choir & Organ, London, 2010)

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