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Christmas Organ Music
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)

Paraphrase Sur un Choeur de Judas Macchabée de Handel op 90 [4'36]
Offertoire sur des Noels op 39, 6 [7'28]
Offertoire sur deux Noels op 19 [8'48]
Pierbattista Farinelli da FALCONARA (1844-1915)

Pastorale [3'57]
Armando PIERUCCI (b 1935)

Variations on 'Puer natus est' [8'41]
Marco Enrico BOSSI (1861-1925)

Pastorale op 118, 3 [4'57]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen op 122, 8 [4'07]
Max REGER (1873-1916)

Weinachten op 145,3 [10'07]
Léon BOËLLMANN (1862-1897)

Offertoire sur des Noels [6'41]
André FLEURY (1903-1995)

Variations sur un Noel bouguignon [9'12]
Henri MULET (1878-1967)

Carillon-Sortie [6'49]
Elisabeth Roloff, organ
rec. October 30th, 31st, 2004, St Catherina, (Church of the Nativity), Bethlehem. DDD
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 320 1345-2 [76'06]

A Christmas organ CD from Bethlehem? Strange but true, as the Church of the Nativity there has recently installed a new Rieger organ. It follows the pattern of most other Rieger organs; Frenchy reeds, rather hard mixtures, rock-solid wind etc. Here the nomenclature is in Italian, but the tonal aesthetic is unaffected. If anything this organ seems slightly more French than Rieger's usual fare, and, aided by a good acoustic, it sounds warm and quite convincing despite some occasional tuning problems. Surprisingly the organ has electro-pneumatic action for the Grand Organo, Recitativo and Pedale, only the Positivo behind the alter having its own mechanical action keyboard. This troubles me; whatever the artistic limitations of Rieger's tonal philosophy as I see them, their mechanical actions on large organs are models of world-class engineering. Rieger is one of the very few organ builders in the world who don't resort to electric coupling on their big organs, but can still make a very playable action.

Here I have the feeling that perhaps the organ in Bethlehem isn't shown to best advantage. The choice of repertoire makes for mostly un-inspiring listening; Guilmant's tedious Offertoires, unknown but unadventurous Italian offerings, a barely digestible chunk of Reger. Interestingly, Boellmann's Offertoire is more interesting, suggesting again that the much over-played Suite Gothique isn't his best work. Fleury's and Mulet's works are also more interesting, the Mulet is well known of course, but, as with the rest of the programme, they receive leaden and boring performances from Elisabeth Roloff, a German-born former student of Ralph Downes no less! She is now head of the organ department at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Drama.

Interesting for the novelty value then, but don't expect it to liven up your Christmas.

Chris Bragg



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