Monday, February 18, 2013

Pipedreams Organ Tour - Day 7

Cathedrale Saint-Pons de Cimiez, exterior
After leaving Beziers on Sunday, May 16 (Day 7 of the tour), we drove into the mountains to the town of Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres, to visit the Cathedrale Saint-Pons de Cimiez on our way to Carcassonne, perhaps the most extraordinary town in all of France (possibly next to Paris).
Magnificent gilded baroque organ and inlaid marble walls,
interior of Cathedrale Saint-Pons de Cimiez

The organ in the Cathedrale Saint-Pons de Cimiez is a baroque instrument, built in 1771 by Micot and Son; it was restored in the 1980s, but all the original features (pipes, casing, stops) have been retained. It is a magnificent looking organ and one of the oldest we have seen and heard. Although the exterior of the church has a simple Romanesque style, the interior is clearly baroque, with gilding and abundant inlaid marble on walls and fixtures.
Michael Barone at the console, Saint-Pons
From Saint-Pons, we drove on to the fairy-tale city of Carcassonne, which is one of my two favorite cities/towns in France, along with Strasbourg. The sky was overcast as we approached the city, so I couldn’t get a good, well-lit photo of the iconic walled medieval city. We visited three churches in the city.
The medieval walled city of Carcasonne
The first church was the Cathedrale Saint-Michel, which boasts two organs--a great organ and a choir organ--both built by Cavaille-Coll in the mid-19th century. The organist played some very dramatic pieces; intense sound filling the church, then some lighter pieces, perhaps improvisations, that included clear, enchanting tones of bells and cymbals. The church was very dark and musty, and they may have been doing some remodeling; I had to leave before the presentation was over because of a paroxysm of coughing in reaction to the dust, mold and incense that pervaded the interior space
Organ, Cathedrale Saint-Michel
The next church we visited was the Eglise Saint-Vincent, where I waited by the side for the others to come. I had left the other church before group members had played because the smell in the church was causing me to cough, sneeze, and wheeze. The rain had pretty much let up, and the sun came out briefly, but dark, ominous clouds covered it once again. This is another fortress-like church, but in the middle of the city. Again, the church had a great organ and a choir organ, originally built in the early 18th century, modified by Cavaille and Cavaille-Coll in the late 18th century, and then completely rebuilt by Puget in the 19th century. Several in the group played a Widor piece on this organ. The high notes had a very pure tone; the sound was mellow in the middle range, and the lower chords almost seemed to overwhelm the space. According to AB Culver, the reverberation was greater in this church than in any of the others we’d visited. So the combination of the organ and the space gave the music a very special sound and feel.
Beautiful stained glass windows in the
Eglise Saint-Vincent
Finally, we went into the walled city of Carcassonne itself. There the church was the Basilique Saint-Nazaire, whose original organ was built in 1637. It has been overhauled and restored several times since then by notable organ builders. The sound of the organ was good, but not as dramatic or melodic or versatile as some of the other instruments we’ve heard so far. The church was very dark inside, so I didn’t get a decent picture of the organ, but I did manage to get good potos of stained glass windows in this church and the previous one. Walking up and down the city's narrow passageways with a few others in the group, I took as many photos of the city as I could before dark set in. It touched my deepest sense of self and personal continuity as I relived--in memory and imagination--my other trip to Carcassonne in 1957, more than a half century ago.
Striking stained-glass windows,
Basilique Saint-Nazaire, Carcasonne
I couldn't find any links to organ recordings done in the churches and cathedrals we visited this Sunday, May 16. Sorry, Folks!  Ian, your YouTube Pipedreams Southern France recordings 24 - 28 seem to be missing!

The magic city of Carcasonne, twilight