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outstanding retrospective

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Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ Volume 2

Toccata 'Von Himmel hoch' (1937) [4:02]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

Elegiac Romance (1902/1958) [9:52]
Joseph KROMOLICKI (1882-1961)

Theme and Variations Op. 34 (1934) [12:54]
Oreste RAVANELLO (1871-1938)
Adorazione [9:18]
Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)

Introduction et Allegro Moderato (1917) [8:50]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)

Romance (Symphonie No. 4, Op. 32) (1914) [8:56]
Guy WEITZ (1883-1970)

Symphony No. 1 (1951) [19:13]
Jane Parker-Smith (organ)
rec. St Marien Basilika, Kevelaer, Germany, 24-27 January 2007. DDD
AVIE AV2144 [73:45]

This is an absolutely outstanding release from Avie and Jane Parker-Smith. I admire it for many reasons, perhaps the most important of which is Parker-Smith’s demonstrating so aptly that late romantic organ repertoire is so much more interesting and varied than most people think - even many professional organists, I have to say. One feels almost ashamed that so many of the compositions on the disc are so little known. Joseph Kromolicki’s highly virtuosic music for instance is fascinating; he was a Berlin-based Pole working primarily as a church musician in the first half of the 20th century. Writing very much in a lyrical late-romantic aesthetic this music is so much more engaging than Reger, I think!. The highly developed harmonic language and compositional techniques - the canon in the second variation, the ‘Aeolian Harp’ in the fourth, and the quadruple fugue in the last - keep the listener always on the edge of his, or her, seat. Listen also to Parker-Smith’s impassioned performance of the Ireland Elegiac Romance, and the lesser known and, oh so operatic, Adorazione by Italian Oreste Ravanello, appointed to the Basilica of St Marco in Venice at the age of just 17. Guy Weitz’s slightly conservative symphony, published in 1951, is based on Gregorian themes and is atmospheric and impressive. Weitz, the Belgian organist of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, in London, studied with Guilmant at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, and later taught his successor, the revered Nicholas Danby.

The organ is the giant Seifert in the Marien Basilika in Kevelaer, completed in 1907 and, at a whopping 135 stops the largest organ in a Roman Catholic church in Germany. It suits all the music here well, mostly because of the large number of enclosed stops, and better than normal - by German late-romantic standards - reeds, including a new set of Tubas copied from the Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Sacré Coeur in Paris. The recording helps also. It’s daringly distant, and gives an admirable and all too rare sense of the organ being ‘up there on the wall’ instead of in your face. It wouldn’t surprise me if other reviewers criticise this, but I think it’s fantastic.

The booklet contains excellent programme notes by Martin Anderson and some gorgeous photography.

This deserves full marks for innovative programming, wonderful playing, a superb recording and excellent presentation.

Chris Bragg


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