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Jane Parker-Smith at The Goll Organ of St. Martin Memmigen:
Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ Vol. 1

Marcel LANQUETUIT (1894-1985) Toccata
Joseph BOULNOIS (1884-1918) Choral in F sharp minor
Henri MULET (1878-1967) Rosace (Esquisses Byzantines)
Joseph JONGEN (1873-1953) Sonata Eroïca, Op 94
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946) Fantasie Choral No. 1
Jeanne DEMESSIEUX (1921-1968) Répons pour le Temps de Pâques
York BOWEN (1884-1961) Melody in G minor
Wilhelm MIDDELSCHULTE (1863-1943) Passacaglia in D minor
Jane Parker-Smith (organ)
Rec. Goll Organ of St. Martin Memmingen, 6-8 August 2003. DDD
AVIE AV0034 [71:35]


There are times when one has to rethink one’s biases: I am not normally taken with organ works. I tend to think of them as overly pompous and uninspiring on the whole, with the organ tending to reside in my mind as a musical dinosaur, blaring loudly through music bound both by the conservative nature of the church audience that so often spawned the instrument itself and the weighty tradition of church music. That being said, I do try and listen to each work presented to me with as little bias as I can muster and giving this recording an open mind has proven rewarding. I was treated to a collection that was by turns engaging and brooding, with high amounts of energy in places and emotive journeys through somber or restive locales in others. Jane Parker-Smith did a masterful job choosing a collection of mostly serious and lesser known organ works that allow her to show off her obvious talent and musicality. The recording itself is a bit muddy and dark, definitely removing the listener from the cathedral experience. That being said, the music is brilliant and interesting.

The disc subtitles itself "Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ, Vol. 1." "Romantic" must be a reference to the period of musical romanticism, as none of these works evoke the mood of a gentle candle-lit dinner for two with a nice bottle of wine. However, "virtuoso" is understated, as Parker-Smith goes from one flawless performance to another. Even so, I seldom felt that I was simply hearing a very good player go through the motions of producing something for mass consumption. This was an obvious work of love created by someone who wants to show off both her own talents and those of the composers themselves.

As far as the selection is concerned, each of these eight pieces is obviously a technical masterwork by its composer, and chosen for the combination of its difficulty and stand-out musicality. The organ is used in the common way: creating walls of sound that would make Phil Spector proud; yet each work is interesting and musically valuable. The composers all have the dubious distinction of being hardly known outside the world of the organ. Yet the pieces were engaging and obviously incredibly suited to the instrument of choice. They too had an obvious knowledge and love for the organ as an instrument, and the result is wonderful. I find myself realizing that criticizing these composers for what I had previously considered their over-specialization is akin to me stating that Duke Ellington was a decent composer, but didn’t know how to write a symphony. Their special knowledge, when conjoined to the virtuosic talent of Ms. Parker-Smith, produces one delightful gem after another.

While Jane Parker-Smith has certainly not made it any more likely that I will soon go out and buy the complete works of Bach for organ, this is an album that will certainly stay in my collection. The music was obviously carefully chosen and incredibly well executed. The instrument is a joy to listen to. The recording quality, while not perfectly crystalline, does not distract. When Vol. 2 comes out, I will gladly add it to my collection. I recommend this disc as an addition to any music collection.

Patrick Gary

 



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