The Organ

Ladies at Notre Dame de France, Leicester Square

Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin
8th June 2005

An enterprising series to re-launch the newly invigorated Notre Dame de France, looking immaculate in its new décor - particularly the new sanctuary and tabernacle. We intend bringing readers a full article on the church and its Gern / Walker / Shepherd organ in our August edition.

But for the moment it is right to highlight the delights of the opening recital given by Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin. The acoustic in the circular building is deceptive. While quieter stops seem comfortably placed either side of the altar, any increase in volume produces a wrap-around effect until, at near full organ one is enveloped in the most heady and voluptuous aural experience.

Sophie-Veronique's programme was obviously designed to show off these qualities, opening with a virile reading of five movements from Clerambault's Suite No 1. Here the sound oscillated from the depth of the case in the light second movement to the fuller Nazard of the third and the warm, almost sultry sound of the fourth movement duet. But none of this prepared us for the pedal onslaught of the final movement!

By contrast the Bach d minor Trio seemed comfortably relaxed with a satisfying cantabile throughout. Sitting in the gallery I was able to see the console and suddenly realised that Sophie-Veronique was pedalling with quite substantial heels! Rheinberger's Introduction and Passacaglia flourished in the powerful attack this instrument allows, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the rippling figures. The conclusion had a frightening sense of presence, far more than simply loud and dominant.

The three movements from Widor's Fifth Symphony, while finely played, seemed oddly placed within the programme as a whole. I can not recall hearing any works by Canadian composer Denis Bédard before, but his Rhapsody in 4 movements proved to be a lively piece, ending in a rousing march.

Sophie-Veronique concluded her recital with an improvisation on a hymn tune - St John the Baptist. A gently bubbling introduction allowed the tune to float over it before becoming more robust and giving way to a fuller and more romantic treatment of both tune and accompaniment. However this section soon appeared to dry up, as if the stream disappeared underground and we followed it through a very low lying set of variations which hinted at Ravel. A solo reed called everything back to the light, and an intense awakening with piping and birdcalls above a very pastoral setting. The lightness of a dance became gradually weightier and eventually both furious and massive. The dynamic conclusion reminded me of the end of Mahler's Resurrection symphony - and the power this instrument can command meant that the comparison was not necessarily over-stretched.

As an encore - and in complete contrast - she played Guy Bovet's tongue-in-cheek Sonata - a refreshing and delightful way to end a very stimulating evening. I am sure the rest of the series will be equally fascinating.


Katherina Chobrokova will play on the 13th of July and Francesca Massey on the 10th of August.