Category Archives: Organ

New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-3

I’ve written previously of a delightful album organist E Power Biggs made for CBS called Music for a Merry Christmas, as available in a transfer from High Definition Tape Transfers (HDTT). This year HDTT has a second Biggs album called What Child Is This? and it’s as much of a charmer as the first.  On this program Biggs plays in partner ship with the men of the Gregg Smith Singers, the Texas Boys Choir of Fort Worth, and the New York Brass and Percussion Ensemble. Gregg Smith conducts. When the boys sing with the men they in a sense make up an SATB choir.

The sound is crisp and clear with wide stereo separation. Though there are exceptions, the boys are usually  in the left channel, the men in the right and the organ in the center. The percussion pop up all over the place. Though this recording is still available on CBS LP and Sony CD, HDTT has done an astonishingly good transfer of it, making it available in a wide variety of download formats as well as discs. The sound is so impressive that I’d go with their edition in spite of the extra cost. There’s alas no info on the organ used. It’s not one of those huge monsters with lots of subwoofer bass, but a brightly chirping instrument that has ultra bubbly, clean sound. Probably a Flentrop or something like that.


New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-2

There are always abundant choral holiday albums each and every year and many of them are excellent, but this year one towers over all the others. That one is Carolae – Music for Christmas , performed by the Westminster Williamson Voices chorus of Princeton, NJ, conducted by James Jordan with Daryl Robinson on organ, along with brass, percussion and other instrumental forces. There are some lovely arrangements here and a concluding Toccata on Vom Himkmel Hoch for solo organ written by Garth Edmundson that positively sizzles, but the main interest is Missa carolae by award winning composer James Whitbourn. The Six-movement work is interspersed with other arrangements and uses familiar carols in ways one might not expect but sound absolutely appropriate. Using drums and other

percussion, Whitbourn turns many a well known tune into an exciting processional – drum carols on steroids. The overall result is appealing, urgent, uplifting, and downright thrilling. Every single one of the singers and instrumentalists give their all. Eacn seems to be a virtuoso but is able to fit inconspicuously into a solid ensemble. The recording is a marvel. Every detail is easily heard and the tuttis, with their subwoofer friendly bass will lift you to the heights! Honest. The CD is offered at bargain rates by using the link above. Click that and bring some real majesty into your holiday listening.


Archiv’s Stereo Analogue Recordings

Archiv Productions was founded in Germany in  1945 as a subsidiary label of Deutsche Grammophon. It’s purpose was to record older music in performances authentic to the periods covered.  DG has already issued a box of CDs that was an overview of Archiv’s entire history. Now they have a new box which focuses in on the label’s stereo analogue recordings, made between 1959 and 1981. I think they’ve done a splendid job at hitting all the highlights. Karl Richter’s Bach recordings are represented by one of the cantatas and the Magnificat. Richter recorded around 75 of the cantatas and his approach was admired for its vigor, precision,  and strength. August Wenzinger recorded Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks using a large wind band without strings, the way Handel originally wrote it for the first performance. Trevor Pinnock’s recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites, one of the first of many that Pinnock made for Archiv is here, as is Telemann’s Der Getreue Music-Meister.

Archiv Analogue stereo box

Remarkable recordings by Charles Mackerrs, Simon Preston, and Helmut Walcha are all here along with many surprises, all pleasant ones. Archiv producers not only took great care with the arts and repertory for the label but also with the recorded sound. Every CD in this magnificent set is state-of-the-art for its day and most still hold that title up to present time. Each disc is in a cardboard sleeve that duplicates, on a smaller scale, the original vinyl album art work. You can see that in the beginning, it was the cream colored, plain sleeves that were all alike except of the artists and compositions. The label later went to silver with color inserts alternating with full color bordered in silver. They are all beautifully reproduced for this set. There’s an informative booklet delineating the entire series, complete with period photographs of the artists.

There’s not a clunker in this elegant set; it should be a much demanded gift item for the holiday season coming up in six months. But it is so appealing that if you bought it now, you’d probably want to keep it yourself.

Something to be Thankful For – Two Five-Star Organ Recordings

As impossible as it might seem, I’ve been the recipient of not one, but two outstanding organ recordings this month, from opposite sides of the Atlantic. From the United States and Reference Recordings comes Organ Polychrome – The French School, recorded in Kansas City and played by Jan Kraybill, and MDG Records in Germany presents Max Reger – Organ Works, recorded in Hamburg and played by Christoph Schoener.

The United States disc is presented in HDCD and gives an arresting aural picture of The Julia Irene Kauffman Organ – Casavant Freres, Op. 3875, 2011 housed in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The German disc is a Hybrid Multichannel SACD presenting the three organs of St. Michaelis Church in Hamburg.

Organ Polychrome 2

Kraybill plays a colorful program of compositions by French organ masters on the mighty yet transparent KC organ, opening with Widor’s Allegro from his Symphony No. 6 in g minor and closing with Gigout’s thunderous  Grand-Choeur dialogue. In between are soft & dulcet pieces and louder, more heroic ones from Schmitt, Alain, Durufle, Dupre, Franck, and Guilmant. Kraybill doesn’t shy away from the bombast when called for, but she discovers and emphasizes lyrical elements wherever they exist. She talks of an “extensive array of tonal colors” in her clearly written program notes and as impossible as it might seem reading this, that turns out to be almost an understatement on hearing the music itself.

Schoener is dealing with just one composer, but a composer with many different facets. Reger’s powerful and elaborate Fantasy on the Choral “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott and Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue are offset by the lovely simplicity of a dozen chorales from Reger’s Opus 135a. Schoener’s playing is precise, urgent, and colorful. Lyricism does not  suffer but structure and registration are of utmost importance.

Reger MDG

The two recordings clearly define the contrasting locations. The Kraybill disc shows off  the concert hall that houses the Casavant organ. Reverberation is that of a concert hall. Awesome fff chords die away relatively soon. The opposite is true of the MDG disc, recorded in a church with a long delay time, but that does not keep MDG from achieving clarity it its recording. Both the Keith O. Johnson engineered Reference Recordings disc and the MDG SACD, produced by company founders Werner Dabringhaus and Reimund Grimm are five-star efforts. There’s no case of either-or here, both are must hear titles.

Sir Hubert Parry – Musical Grandeur Fully Realized

Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918) was a composer who loved to use grand features and sweeping statements to create a sense of grandeur that influenced a number of English composers and started the style of British pomp and circumstance. He composed music in many genres but is perhaps best remembers for his magnificent choral anthems and oratorios, many of which are to be found on a stunning new CD featuring the Choir of Westminster Abbey, with the Onyx Brass, and organist Daniel Cook, all conducted by James O’Donnell.

Parry O'Donnell

The popular Jerusalem, I was Glad, and Blest Pair of Sirens all receive passionate readings, virtually on fire with no emotion held back. Hear my words, ye people presents a particularity fine solo by bass Jonathan Brown, and the Magnificat from the Great Service has a quartet of equally distinguished soloists in addition to the well as the chorus and organ. The choruses sings with spirit, precision, and amazing tone, the excellent organ playing of Daniel Cook is rewarded with an organ solo spot – the Fantaisa and Fugue in G. The Onyx Brass adds extra thrills and sonority on three tracks. I’ve heard many recordings from Westminster Abbey, but none that so accurately reproduces the size of it as this one. The reverb time is great, the organ pedal notes awesome and resonate, yet there is great clarity up front as well. An outstanding recording in just about every way.