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 eclassical.com
No booklet included
REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-133 [71:13]
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
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
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.