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Organ Polychrome – The French School
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Allegro from Symphony No. 6 in G minor (1879) [8:57]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Prière (Prelude in G minor), Op.11 (c1900) [2:54]
Jehan Ariste ALAIN (1911-1940)
Deux danses à Agni Yavishta (1932) [5:14]
Joseph BONNET (1884-1944)
Variations de Concert, Op. 1 (1906) [8:46]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Scherzo, Op. 2 (1929) [6:44]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Prélude et Fugue (in G minor), Op. 7, No. 3 (1912) [7:01]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Pièce héroïque (1878) [10:19]
Felix Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Caprice in B flat, Op. 20, No. 3 (1862) [5:40]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Prélude, Caprice & Intermezzo from Pièces de fantaisie, Op. 51 (1927) [9:24]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Grand-Choeur dialogué, from Six pièces d’orgue (1881) [6:07]
Jan Kraybill (organ)
rec. 20-21 June 2013, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Reviewed as a 24/176.4 download from
No booklet included

The last Reference Recordings release to come my was Organ Odyssey, which showcased the Fisk Op. 100 of Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas. In general such up-to-date instruments show how capable modern concert organs can be; stable, sophisticated and subtle they certainly make a change from the untamed roar of the Cavaillé-Colls upon which the French composer-organists experimented with such success. That said, some examples of the venerable Aristide’s organ-building skills – that in the Church of St François-de-Sales, Lyon, for instance – can deliver the most refined sounds imaginable. Jan Lehtola’s Widor disc – one of my Recordings of the Year for 2013 – is ample proof of that.

The Allegro from Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 6 headlines this new album, which features Kansas City's Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant (2011). At the console of this magnificent 102-rank instrument is Jan Kraybill, who tackles Widor’s daunting structures with aplomb. Even at this early stage the organ’s tonal subtlety and range of colours are very much in evidence; whether Kraybill’s dissembling quietly or sallying forth her playing is always tasteful and proportionate. As for the recorded sound, so often the killer in collections such as this, it’s both full and forensic, with a phenomenal reach. These tummy-wobbling pedals, all the more thrilling for being judiciously used, will satisfy even the most jaded of organistas.

Goodness, this is a very promising start; after all that heat and heft Florent Schmitt’s Prière is a quiet oasis of pure loveliness. Small it may be, but it’s so gracefully formed. Jehan Alain’s two dances inspired by Agni Yavishta, the Hindu god of fire, are a perfect foil for what’s gone before. Kraybill teases out all the music’s sinuous rhythms and exotic flavours, and seasons the dish – lightly – with those stunning pedals. Joseph Bonnet’s Variations de Concert, a most accomplished Op. 1, is another well-chosen piece, for it demonstrates both the intimacy and agility of this fine instrument.

There’s nothing at all flashy or distracting about Kraybill’s performances; and what a pleasure that is, given the self-aggrandising showmanship one usually associates with such recitals. It’s not just the playing, for the clean, unfussy acoustic and the perfectly judged recording add immeasurably to one’s enjoyment of the music. And it just gets better. Maurice Duruflê’s elusive, Ariel-like Scherzo is a delight; Kraybill’s apt registrations and general keyboard wizardry turns her into something of a Prospero figure, very much in command of all that she surveys. This confluence of artistic and technical talents makes the Scherzo an ideal taster for those who wish to try before they buy.

Marcel Dupré is represented here by his youthfully conceived G minor Prélude et Fugue. Given his flamboyance as both a composer and a performer Duprê’s writing here seems remarkably restrained. Don’t be fooled, for the filigreed detail of the first part and the firm direction of the second confirm this as the work of a real pro. As always Kraybill gets the scale just right, so the work’s fugal pomp never sounds empty or overbearing. A quiet bravo is in order here, as it is after Franck’s Pièce héroïque. The latter's an organ staple that, like so many of its ilk, is apt to stale with repetition. Kraybill really freshens it up with her lithe, transparent playing; indeed, her finely shaped and projected account of the piece reminds me of Hans-Eberhard Roß, whose three-volume traversal of Franck’s organ music is mandatory listening for all Franckophiles.

As with Organ Polychrome those Roß recordings, played on a 1998 Goll, revitalise familiar repertoire in all sorts of ways. Throw in sympathetic engineering and the results are truly remarkable. That’s certainly true of Felix Guilmant’s Caprice in B flat, which at times appears to mimic the chug and honk of a fairground organ. This may suggest a degree of roughness, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kraybill's playing is always refined, and she brings out the music’s inner voices with ease and good humour. This is my favourite track; the music scampers to a delicious, seat-pinning finale that left me grinning like a village idiot.

Louis Vierne’s mellifluous Prélude, the first part of a work he wrote for his US concert tour in 1927, gets a buoyant outing here; the dark-toned Caprice balances grace and gravitas and the Intermezzo, with its ‘Boo!’ ending, is spookily done. What better way to end this marvellous recital than with Eugène Gigout’s Grand-Choeur dialogué? Grand it most certainly is; the recording’s fine sense of depth and breadth ensures the antiphonal character of the piece is conveyed with ear-pricking realism. And the joy that peals forth in the final seconds is a perfect metaphor for this recital as a whole; a triumph for all concerned.

Only once before have I encountered an organ recording worthy of the term 'a perfect storm’, and that was the Fuga/Kiviniemi Lakeuden Ristin urut; I didn’t think that would be supplanted any time soon, and now it has. The skill and good judgement of both organists is beyond question, as are the recording talents of Mika Koivusalo (Fuga) and Keith O. Johnson and his team (Reference Recordings). Frankly, these two albums blow all others into the proverbial weeds.

In the face of such overwhelming excellence it pains me to bring up the vexed question of booklets or, more precisely, the lack of them. I was annoyed to discover that this and other RR downloads are being sold without any documentation. In a recent article for MusicWeb International I pointed out why this is unacceptable and urged the offending labels/distributors to address the issue without delay. A cross Tweet elicited a booklet in this case, but that’s not the way it should be done. RR's omission is all the more regrettable as the Organ Polychrome booklet is beautifully presented – it’s a model of common sense and clarity – and Kraybill’s succinct notes are a pleasure to read.

Pure magic; my store of enchanted objects has just increased by one.

Dan Morgan