Erik van der Heijden
Peter Van De Velde has, with 'his' organ in the Antwerp Cathedral – and by that we naturally mean the monumental Schyven organ – the ideal medium to present this music, and he does so with exceptional vigor.

In the years around World War I, Brussels had a rich and fascinating organ culture. This prompted local composers to compose for the organ. Thus, during the period when Vierne was writing some of his great symphonies in Paris, interesting symphonic organ works were created by composers who are today hardly or not at all known, such as Paul Gilson, Raymond Moulaert, Joseph Jongen, and Paul de Maleingreau.

In 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Paul Eugène Malengreau was commemorated. He was born in 1887 in a small village in northern France but grew up near the Walloon provincial capital of Namur. He studied at the Brussels Conservatory, organ with Alfons Desmet (a student of Lemmens), harmony with Paul Gilson, and counterpoint with Edgar Tinel. From 1913 until his retirement in 1953, Malengreau worked as a lecturer at the same conservatory. As a composer, he published more than a hundred works under the pseudonym Paul de Maleingreau, including forty opus numbers for solo organ. His organ works can be divided into two categories: numerous preludes and interludes for liturgical use, simple in design and suitable for smaller organs on one hand, and large symphonic works with virtuoso passages and a strong sense of drama on the other. The style of De Maleingreau's compositions is usually labeled 'impressionistic,' with a nod to Claude Debussy. However, his style has a unique character, thanks to the frequent use of Gregorian themes. Three major symphonies form the core and highlight of De Maleingreau's organ works. All three can be heard on these CDs, along with the Suite pour orgue, the Suite Mariale, and the Toccata pour orgue. This results in twice nearly eighty minutes of pure symphonic organ music and an interesting introduction to a sound world that, although less than a century removed from us, is quite unknown.

The Symphonie de Noël, dedicated to Albert Schweitzer, sometimes reminds of Vierne. In the Symphonie de la Passion, dedicated to one of the Flemish Primitives (Rogier van der Weyden), De Maleingreau comments poignantly on several scenes from the Passion story, in which the tumult of the people and the way to Golgotha evoke an ominous atmosphere. The Symphonie de l’Agneau Mystique is based on the famous altarpiece of the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers (1432), located in the cathedral of Ghent. De Maleingreau paints with tones and creates atmospheres that span a wide spectrum; from mystical restraint to triumphant exuberance. The way he processes Gregorian themes demonstrates great inventiveness and religious commitment.

Peter Van De Velde has with 'his' organ in the Antwerp Cathedral – and by that we mean, of course, the monumental Schyven organ – the ideal medium to present this music, and he does so with great élan. Pierre Schyven placed his magnum opus (IVP/90) here in 1891, undoubtedly the pinnacle of Belgian romantic organ building and moreover almost perfectly preserved. The mild foundation stops are of touching beauty and the reed stops provide a festive tutti, which, however, is less intense than that of his French counterparts. The organ does not sound loud in the church, on the contrary: softer registrations require an attentive listening attitude from the churchgoer. This also applies to these recordings. Sound engineer Christoph Martin Frommen of Aeolus has captured the sound with a great sense of detail. The dynamic range of the organ is well represented. The Barker machines are audibly present in soft passages – just as in the church.

As usual with Aeolus, the design of the packaging (cardboard) and the booklets is tasteful. All desired information is available in four languages.

These CDs are an important and beautiful addition to the collection of symphonic organ music. [ERIK VAN DER HEIJDEN]