Construction was begun
on this Aeolian-Skinner organ in 1910
by E. M. Skinner himself. It was enlarged
to its current 143 ranks 43 years later
by G. Donald Harrison. Skinner was famous
for some of the solo stops which were
originally installed, most notably the
French horn (heard at the close of the
Franck), clarinet, flügel-horn
and flauto mirabilis (featured in Dupré’s
Litanie) as well as the tuba major,
cornopean and ophicleide (which gives
the reeds in the Soler such deep resonance).
To these, Harrison added a State Trumpet
of uniquely percussive articulation
and fiery tone. It is located at the
west end of the nave, and mounted horizontally
beneath the rose window, more than 600
feet from the main organ. Among the
52 other features added were a 16’ bassoon
to the great organ, an 8’ trumpet to
the swell organ, a 16’ English horn
to the choir organ, a complete Bombarde
organ (available at all stations), including
a 16’ Bombarde, an 8’ Trompette Harmonique
and an 8’ Clarion Harmonique. Among
the additions to the pedal organ were
a 16’ Contre Basse and a 32’ Contre
Bombarde. In other words, since the
mid-1950s, this has been an instrument
to be reckoned with. The Telarc label
has specialized in "super sound
spectaculars" since their first
LPs appeared many years ago. The age
of the recording should in no way deter
someone looking for a CD with "big"
sound. As usual, this CD is up to their
usual standard of excellence.
The Agincourt Hymn
(or Carol), attributed to John Dunstable,
is nicely voiced with rich reedy tones.
Antonio Soler’s piece (arranged by E.
Power Biggs as "The Emperor’s Fanfare")
is performed regally and with just enough
pomp. The 19th Psalm, set
by Benedetto Marcello sounds (appropriately
enough) as though it ought to be played
in church on Sunday; not surprisingly,
Mr. Murray plays it just that way. Although
his performance of Henry Purcell’s Trumpet
Tune does not erase fond memories of
an album made in the early 1970s called
"Purcell à Notre Dame".
It was spectacularly played by Pierre
Cochereau and the sound by French Philips
was magnifique. To my knowledge, it
has not been re-released on CD, at least
not in its entirety.
The so called "Cathedral"
prelude and fugue in E minor by (J.S.)
Bach (BWV 533) is somewhat lackluster,
at least it seems rather tame to me,
compared to some other works by the
master that would really "shake
the walls" so to speak. I suppose
I prefer my Bach more "red blooded"
than "elegant". There is certainly
nothing "wrong" with the piece,
but it just does not satisfy the way
some of his more popular and more frequently
played fugues, whether preceded by "preludes"
or "toccatas" would be in
such a spectacular acoustic. Considering
that this is the only example of the
early 18th century north
German school, and a rather short at
that, one wonders if Michael Murray
is not decidedly more enamored of the
French school of the late 19th
and early 20th centuries.
Not that there is anything wrong with
that, but the observation tends to ring
true when one considers that just over
one half of the program is devoted to
four French composers who lived collectively
between 1822 and 1971.
of the programming becomes clearer when
one considers that the above-mentioned
four French composers all held the post
of organist at three major Paris cathedrals,
namely Notre Dame (Vierne), Saint Clothilde
(Franck) and St. Sulpice (Widor and
the protégé who succeeded
minor Chorale by Franck is a free
passacaglia, through which the travails
of faith take on virtuoso swagger to
end with hard-won tranquility. This
work, the longest of the eleven tracks,
is certainly the most substantial musically.
It was written to be played in this
magnificent edifice, as were all of
the works by this Gallic quartet.
best known works are the ten symphonies
for solo organ written between 1872
and 1900. They were boldly conceived
on a truly orchestral scale for the
new "romantic" instrument
built by Cavaillé-Coll. The 5th
and final movement from the Symphony
No. 6 combines subtlety with grandiosity
and Mr. Murray certainly plays it that
Between 1899 and 1930
Louis Vierne wrote a magnificent cycle
of six similar works. These not only
pick up where Widor left off chronologically
but stylistically as well, taking the
form to the next level, as it were.
The works performed here, from his 24
Pièces en style libre, show
his subtle, more contemplative side.
Murray plays them with tenderness and
as the title indicates a "free"
The final two tracks
of this nearly hour long recital feature
the music of Marcel Dupré whose
magnificent Symphonie-Passion (1924)
is considered by many to be the crowning
achievement of the genre. The pieces
selected show his stylistic diversity.
The Cortège et litanie, shows
him in ecclesiastic, almost reverential
mode. The last of the seven Pieces,
written ten years later, reveals a breathless,
fun loving spirit.
Dupré was significant
as the teacher of the previously mentioned
Pierre Cochereau and another figure
who features prominently in the history
of this organ. Virgil Fox (1912-1980)
enrolled at the Peabody School of Music
in 1930, where he studied organ with
Robert. He graduated from there
one year later with an artist’s degree
and traveled to France where he studied
from 1931-33 with Dupré.
In 1946 he accepted the position of
organist of New York's Riverside Church,
where he remained until 1965. He made
over sixty recordings during his long
career, and many of the early ones were
made on the same instrument heard here.
The reason I mention this is that my
own personal experience with organ music
performed "live" began when
I was as a 16 or 17 year old high school
student who had the good fortune to
be asked on short notice to join my
music teacher at one of Mr. Fox’s Bach
"extravaganzas". By this time,
around 1968, he had gained quite a reputation
as a flamboyant "guru" who
not only made his concerts an audio
experience, but a visual one as well.
A large rear screen projection system
was set up behind his Rogers touring
organ (which had numerous speakers);
and a fantastic "light show"
was flashed at the audience while Fox
played the music with tremendous abandon
and glee. I can still recall that the
music swirling around in my head, almost
to the point of intoxication. However,
Mr. Fox’s earlier "non flamboyant"
recordings are well worth seeking out.
Three separate volumes of "The
Art of Virgil Fox" were re-issued
by ANGEL/EMI during the mid-to late-1990s
and all are currently available from
Amazon.com. Made from the late 1950s
through the mid-1960s, they are recorded
on the same organ heard here and in
very good to excellent sound. If one
were to acquire only one of them it
should be (Volume 3): French organ music
(ANGEL/EMI 66386). It contains a piece
I’ve loved since my first time hearing
it. The first track on side 1 of the
first Fox album I ever bought. The jacket
was eventually signed "Virgil sends
love" by the great man himself.
If you have ever wanted to have a recording
of what can only be described as music
from a "Transylvanian Castle at
Midnight" it would have to be the
4th and final movement "toccata"
from a piece called Suite Gothique (1895)
by Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897).
Also included on the disc is music by
Franck, Dupré and Vierne.
Gregory W. Stouffer