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Michael Murray Plays the Great Organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
John DUNSTABLE (1370-1453)

Agincourt Hymn (attrib.) [1:50]
Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)

The Emperor’s Fanfare for keyboard in D major (arr. E. Power Biggs) [3:22]
Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739)

Psalm 19 "The Heaven’s Declare the Glory of God" [2:44]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

Trumpet Tune for harpsichord in C major ("Cibell") ZT678 [3:30]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)

Organ Symphony No. 6 in G minor op. 42 no. 2: V "Finale – Vivace" (1878) [8:38]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV 533 "Cathedral" [6:26]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)

24 Pièces en style libre for organ op. 31 (1913): Meditation [3:53] and Prelude [3:07]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Chorale for organ No. 2 in B minor M39 (1890) [13:37]
Marcel DUPRE (1886-1971)

Cortège et litanie for organ Op. 19 No. 2 (1921) [6:45]
Seven Pieces for organ Op. 27 No. 7 "Final" (1933) [5:00]
Rec. Aeolian-Skinner organ, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City, 27-28 July 1987. DDD
TELARC CD-80169 [59:55]



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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.

The appropriateness 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 him, Dupré).

The B 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.

Charles-Marie Widor’s 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 way.

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" style.

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 Louis 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

 



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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