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The Grand Tradition
George Friedrich HANDEL
(1685–1759) Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major, Op. 4 [11.18]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Liebestod (from Tristan und Isolde) [7.53]
Maurice DURUFLE (1902-1883) Choral varié sur le thème du Veni Creator, Op. 4 [5.34]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) Andante Sostenuto (from Symphonie Gothique, Op. 70) [5.46]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Sonata I in F minor, Op. 65 [15.00]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Prelude and Fugue in D Minor [10.04]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Sketch in D flat major Op. 58, No. 3 [2.56]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911) March on a theme by Handel [6.35]
Richard Morris (organ)
rec. 27-29 June 2006, First Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS1187 [66.38]

Audio samples available

If you enjoy the sound of the American symphonic pipe organ from the 1940s and 1950s then buy this disc. Morris displays a superb technique and dazzling control of the tonal colour.

The new organ of First Presbyterian Church in Savannah Georgia was inspired both by the 1940s era sanctuary of the church and the sound-world of the contemporary Aeolian-Skinner organs. A new organ was built by Schlueter based around this uniquely American tonal philosophy. The instrument is intended to provide choral and congregational accompaniment as well as allowing a wide variety of solo repertoire to be played on it. The result is a substantial three manual, 48 rank instrument.
This is the second recording of the organ. For the first, Tom Alderman played a number of warhorses from the organ repertoire. For this disc, the intention was to showcase the tonal ideal of the instrument as exemplified by such organists as Virgil Fox. Richard Morris, studied with Richard Hauser in Vienna. He was influenced and encouraged by Virgil Fox, who coached him in the concert organ repertory.
The title of the disc is The Grand Tradition, which seems to apply both to the tradition of organ playing to which Morris adheres and to the organ style to which the instrument belongs.
The recital is nothing if not eclectic, including music by Handel, Wagner, Duruflé, Widor, Mendelssohn, Bach, Schumann and Guilmant. Each work, though, is filtered through the distinctive romantic character of the Schlueter organ. This is most definitely a disc for those people interested in organs and organ-building. Anyone seeking a period-aware, idiomatic performance of Handel's B flat major Concerto or Felix Mendelssohn's Sonata in F minor, should look elsewhere.
I found the Handel performance rather curious. Certainly it sounds nothing like a performance on an 18th century organ; Morris has made no attempt to do this. He has overlaid the piece with a very 19th century tonal palette. The result is rather akin to the late 19th and early 20th century orchestral transcriptions of Bach and Handel – typically Elgar's transcription of the Bach Prelude and Fugue. Morris does not seem to differentiate tonally between the solo and tutti sections, which I would have liked.
More disturbing is the fact that the tonal range scarcely changes as we segue from Handel to Wagner. I found Archer Gibson's transcription of the Liebestod rather lacked a sense of the overwhelming; something that is surely necessary in this work. On the whole the performance was understated, not an adjective I would usually apply to the Liebestod.
With Duruflé's Choral Varié sur le thème du Veni Creator and the Andante Sostenuto from Widor's Symphonie Gothique, we reach works which can be addressed well by this organ's rich palette. Granted, the sound quality is not very French, but the wide variety of tonal colours and textures works well and I would have liked more Duruflé and more Widor in the recital.
I prefer my Mendelssohn played in a slightly more neo-classical manner. As with the Handel, I felt that the organ and its player tend to superimpose their personalities too strongly on Mendelssohn's piece. Perhaps I am misreading the situation and that is what listeners will want.
These are followed by Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D major. Morris gives a fine account, ably displaying how Bach can and should be played on a large-scale instrument. But again my strictures regarding the tonal palette should be applied. Like the Handel, in places this is akin to a transcription for symphonic organ.
Schumann's short Sketch sits uneasily on its own and I would have preferred some companion pieces. The final piece brings us back to Handel in the form of a March by Guilmant on Handelian themes. This shows Morris and the organ to perfection.
I realise that I might be a little out of step with my view of this recital. If you enjoy the sound of the American symphonic pipe organ from the 1940s and 1950s then buy this disc. Richard Morris displays a superb technique, coupled with a dazzling control of the tonal colours provided by the organ. Unfortunately, for me, the composers and their music get a little lost in the result.
Robert Hugill


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