The Czech organ company
Rieger-Kloss was the organ builder of the Eastern
bloc, in the time between the Second World War and the
fall of the iron curtain. They employed, possibly still
do in fact, more people than any other organ factory in
the world, churning out cheap, dreadful organs by the thousand.
Their products can be found from Belarus to Bulgaria, and
beyond. Since the fall of the communist states,† Rieger-Kloss
have re-invented themselves as builders of American factory
organs, even gaining considerable business in the US itself.
The organ featured here
is a new three manual instrument with Electric action,
47 ranks of pipes and 16 electronic stops. While the sheer
crudeness of the old Rieger-Kloss has gone, the new Rieger-Kloss
hardly embodies high artistic values. Apart from its use
of synthetic voices, abhorrent enough, the pedal is made
up almost exclusively of extended units and borrowings.
The organ has five 32' stops, (presumably most or all fake),
in a church with an acoustic of two seconds at most. The
ubiquitous Chimes, Zimbelstern, Harp and Celesta are all
present.† In general the sound is forgettable at anything
up to mf, and ugly thereafter.
Felix Hell is a young
German organist who moved to the USA to study at the Juilliard
School, aged just 14. Later he undertook bachelor study
at the Curtis Institute. (Curtis is a final outpost of
virtuosity at all costs training - the costs include any
mechanical action teaching instruments, or anything resembling,
aesthetically aware pedagogy, although a newly appointed
professor, Alan Morrison, may change that.) Now at the
grand old age of twenty, Hell has more than 450 concerts
to his credit, the majority of which in the USA. His fame
until now has mostly been built on his 'child-prodigy'
status. That said, his undoubted talent and old-school
American training have left him with a virtuosic technique
capable of tackling all the major romantic and 20th century
repertoire. I was pleasantly surprised to note that Hell
seldom resorts to playing at breakneck speeds to charm
his listener. However, like the Rieger-Kloss company, Hell
has to re-invent himself to be taken seriously as a 'grown-up'
musician. The baroque music here is strictly 'by numbers',
the remainder of the programme consists largely of powder-puff
repertoire, (Gigout, Boellmann, Air on the G String). The
frightening Duprť is very well controlled but lacks the
sense of timing and atmosphere of a Gillian Weir for instance.
If I were Mr Hell, I would take a sabbatical from making
recordings and come back in five years with some significant
repertoire on a significant instrument, preferably closer
to his homeland.
This is of minimal interest.