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Canadian organist’s melodious offerings

09 May 2014


SIX separate publications and two volumes of the organ works of the Canadian composer Denis Bédard have been added to the RSCM catalogue. This is music that aims not to tax the player too as­­siduously, and certainly aspires to appeal to as wide a public as pos­sible.

The paragraphs about Bédard in the publication make clear that his is music is essentially tonal and melodic, and is characterised by a concern for formal clarity and immediate communication. These are honourable and honest aims, and Bédard certainly delivers.

The volumes include a wide variety of moods. In Organ Works: Volume One (£25(CT Bookshop £22.50); 978-0-95402-222-9; N0970), theLamento from his three-movement Suite for Organ is suitably melan­cholic, and the lively Toccata is replete with semiquavers. In the Variations on "The Old Hundredth", the tune is put through its paces over a nine-minute span, and the writing includes  dramatic chordal juxtapositions.

Some of the pieces are really quite simple, and no less effective for that. The Triptyque has a neo-classical Ouverture as an opening movement, followed by a rather staid Invo­cation, and a Toccatina that is guaranteed to sound very flashy and brilliant although the altern­ating chords in the right and left hands will not in fact be that hard to bring off. This is the sign of a composer who knows how to make a good effect with the minimum of fuss.

Always there is the influence of previous composers; the general harmonic language throughout his works perhaps suggests Duruflé, but the Fantaisie (1994) looks back to Buxtehude, and the Suite du premier ton harks back to the French Baroque.

Bédard has received many com­missions, and Volume Two (£25 (£22.50); 978-0075492-223-6; N0971) in­­cludes a number of these, including a striking set of Variations on "Sine Nomine"  (the tune familiar to the words "For all the saints"), a set of Varations on "Christus Vincit", a Prélude et Toccata sur "Victimae Paschali Laudes", and a major work (Pater Noster) of 26-minute du­­ration based on the plainsong melody of the Our Father, which was commissioned on the retire­ment of the then Archbishop of Van­couver in 2004.

This work falls into eight sec­tions, and each is based on a phrase of the plainsong tune.

It may be because I spent some time playing through the works in these two volumes that, when I turned to the six separate items, I felt as though I was seeing the same pieces over again; and some of the titles are also similar.

The Fantasia for organ of 2012  (£4 (£3.60); 978-085402-229-8; N0974) starts with a four-square march, and that is followed by two short sections in a slower tempo before the finale in quick time. The Variations sur Ubi caritas (£4(£3.60); 978-0-85402-228-1; N0973), based on the plainsong melody associated with those words, starts evocatively, but perhaps runs out of steam by the end of its six-minute duration. The eighth of the Huit Invocations (£8 (£7.20); 978-0-85402-231-1; N0975) exploits the same device of alternating chords in the right and left hand as in the Old Hundredth variations mentioned previously.

The other three separate publica­tions are Pièces Galantes (£5.50(£4.95); 978-0-85402-233-5; N0978); Vari­ations sur Madrid (£4(£3.60); 978-0-85402-232-8; N0977); and In Mem­oriam (£1.75(£1.57); 978-085402-232-8; N0076).

There are more than 60 works for organ listed by Bédard in the back of these copies. There will be some­thing useful in these present vol­umes and separate items for everyone, I think.


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