The Aeolian Organ at Duke University Chapel
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1900) (arr. for organ by H. A. Fricker) [7:52]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Rhapsody in D flat major, Op. 17, No. 1 (1915) [5:46]
André FLEURY (1903-1995)
Vif, from Symphony No. 2 for Organ (1946-1947) [4:42]
Edwin LEMARE (1865-1934)
Irish Air from County Derry (Danny Boy) (1925) [3:57]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op. 7 (1912) [21:20]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Rhosymedre, from Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes
Herbert BREWER (1865-1928)
Marche Héroïque (1915) [6:43]
William BOLCOM (b. 1938)
Jesus Loves Me, from Gospel Preludes Book 2 (1979) [5:39]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Grand Chœur Dialogué from 6 Pièces d’Orgue (1881) Arr. for organ and brass sextet by Scott Mcintosh [5:11]
Christopher Jacobson (organ)
Amalgam Brass Ensemble (Gigout)
rec. April 2015, Duke University Chapel, Durham, North Carolina, USA
PENTATONE PTC5186577 SACD [65:56]
As an unashamed organista I lost no time
acquiring a review copy of this new SACD from Pentatone. It showcases
the Aeolian Op. 1785 of Duke University Chapel, built between 1931 and
1932. It boasts four manuals, 81 stops, 102 ranks and, as Mike Foley
points out in his absorbing booklet essay, some of the largest-scaled
pipes ever to leave the firm’s factory in Garwood, New Jersey.
This was Aeolian’s last independent project – they were
taken over by rivals Skinner in 1932 – but the Op. 1785 saga doesn’t
end there. Thanks to a public outcry the organ was saved from replacement
in the 1980s and restored by Foley-Baker Inc. in 2008.
Listening to this disc I can only say it would have been a tragedy to
lose an instrument of this calibre. It’s played here by Christopher
Jacobson FRCO, chapel organist and a widely travelled recitalist. The
recording is by Soundmirror, the Boston-based company that’s become
something of a byword for engineering excellence. Among their high-profile
projects are the Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil with Charles Bruffy
and his fine choirs (Chandos) and several well-reviewed recordings with
Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony (Reference Recordings). John
Newton is the recording engineer on this release, with Mark Donahue
responsible for mixing and mastering.
There’s no better curtain raiser than Finlandia, Sibelius’s
stirring hymn to nascent nationhood. It’s given here in an arrangement
by H. A. Fricker, who took over from William Spark as Civic Organist
at Leeds Town Hall in 1898. He gave twice-weekly recitals on the hall’s
Gray & Davison – free downstairs, 6d in the gallery –
which, if his arrangement of this Sibelian showstopper is anything to
go by, must have been hugely entertaining.
Jacobson’s account of the piece is huge too, but his playing is
very well judged in terms of scale, articulation, rhythm and colour.
As for the sound of this mighty beast it’s simply stupendous;
the pedals – skull and rafter rattling – are probably as
close to ‘being there’ as one’s ever likely to get,
and the rest of the instrument’s range is just as well caught.
Happily there’s no detail-obscuring echo and the wide, deep soundstage
avoids the fatiguing ‘wall of sound’ that afflicts so many
organ recordings. In any event this is a demonstration-quality track
that’s will give your woofers a workout, impress your friends
and annoy the neighbours.
That’s all very well, but albums such as this work best when the
programme is varied in terms of scale, mood and style, each piece illuminating
a different aspect of the organ’s character. The glorious surge
and swell of Howells’ Rhapsody has never sounded so thrilling,
its quieter passages so radiant. Then again this organ speaks with a
warm, honest voice that suits this music very nicely. The ensuing excerpt
from French composer-organist André Fleury’s Organ Symphony
No. 2 shows just how clean-limbed this Aeolian is. What a delightful
performance, brimming with quiet brilliance and firm but gentle rhythms.
The British composer-organist Edwin Lemare is probably best known for
his transcriptions. Among the most popular and poignant of these is
the Irish Tune from County Derry, immortalised as
Danny Boy. My go-to version of the piece is on Warner-EMI’s
Unforgettable Organ Classics, with Noel Rawsthorne at the organ
of Coventry Cathedral. Poised, cleanly articulated and not at all sentimentalised
that performance is hard to beat. As it happens heartfelt playing, apt
registrations and a superb recording make Jacobson’s version very
The most substantial work on this disc are the Trois Préludes et
Fugues by the great French composer, organist and improviser Marcel
Dupré. I’m more used to hearing these virtuoso pieces on a Cavaillé-Coll,
but this awesome Aeolian certainly gives M. Aristide’s behemoths
a run for their money. The contrapuntal writing is clear and well focused,
as are those magnificent panoplies of sound. Perhaps others play the
Op. 7 with a little more panache – daring, even – but Jacobson’s
steady, thoughtful progress has its own rewards. Most important, perhaps,
is that he scales and paces this music with great authority and skill.
After all that showmanship the lovely cadences of Vaughan Williams’
Rhosymedre (Lovely), based on a Welsh hymn tune by John David
Edwards (1805-1885), find the organ at its full, open-hearted best.
What a lovely, embraceable instrument this is, and how impeccably behaved.
Even in ceremonial mode, as in Gloucester Cathedral organist and composer
Herbert Brewer’s Marche Héroïque, this Aeolian processes
with a quiet dignity that’s so utterly British. Once again the
recording team capture all the fanfare and unfettered dynamics of this
That’s followed by something very different: Jesus Loves Me,
US composer William Bolcom’s spare but rather affecting take on
the well-known children’s hymn. But this recital ends as it began
with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser; it’s the French master Eugène
Gigout’s Grand Chœur Dialogué in Scott McIntosh’s
bold, bracing arrangement for organ and brass. The steel and sting of
the Amalgam Ensemble makes for a thrilling contrast with the warm, weighty
organ. What a knock-out; indeed, if an audience were present this spirited
sign-off would surely elicit a spontaneous roar of approbation.
Goodness, I haven’t enjoyed an organ recital so much since Reference
Recordings’ Organ Polychrome (review).
I recommended that disc to John Quinn for a session in the MusicWeb
Listening Room, and I’ll do the same for this newcomer. Incidentally,
I auditioned to both the SACD and the 24/88.2 download, and found the
latter had a touch more ‘air’ and low-frequency wallop.
Jason Stell’s eminently readable notes and a very detailed organ
spec complete a quality package.
A fabulous instrument, superbly played and recorded; an absolute must
for organ fans.