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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Diane Belcher’s CD wins Golden Ears Award

Review by Michael Alan Fox
December 14, 2000

Great Organs of America: Modern Landmarks, Volume 2: The 1998 Glatter-Götz-Rosales Organ of Claremont United Church of Christ. Diane Meredith Belcher, organist. Joseph A. Vitacco III, producer; Michael Barone, recording engineer. JAV 115 CD (JAV Recordings, Inc., 43 Wellington Court, Brooklyn, New York 11230; document www.greatorgancds.com)

One of the most interesting small labels for organists is JAV, the creation of Joseph A. Vitacco, whose mission is to document the surviving untouched organs of both Ernest M. Skinner and his successor and rival G. Donald Harrison. At this writing, there are ten CDs in this series, with more planned, and since I continue my lifelong infatuation with these instruments - and I’m happy to note that there is now a real preservationist ethic about them - I might well have chosen a recording of one of them for a Golden Ear Award. But as good as several of the recordings, performances, organists, and music are among the Skinner and Harrison series, this Diane Meredith Belcher recital on a recent mechanical-action instrument is the best.

It is in fact one glorious organ, neither enormous nor small, and the eclectic program is a nice balance of the fresh and the familiar. The clever opening piece by Timothy Tikker uses nothing but the organ’s 14 reed stops, showing them off singly and in combination, concluding with all of them together, an incandescent sound; the oft-played Franck Piece Heroique ends with a surprise (the 32′ Contre Bombarde has one extra pipe at the bottom for a 15 Hz experience, something possible on only a handful of the world’s organs). The organ plays Bach as well as it plays the romantics, the playing is as good as the instrument, the room is a happy compromise between clear and cavernous, and engineer Michael Barone (host of Public Radio’s Pipedreams show, a man who has listened carefully to some thousands of organs over the years) evidently knew exactly where to place a microphone, close enough to localize individual pipes, distant enough to let the room sing. Bravo!

Pipe Organ CDs are available in the USA by calling our 24 hour toll free number 888-572-2242 or going to document www.pipeorgancds.com and in the UK from Allegro Music 0121-643-7553 or document www.allegro.co.uk