Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments
This article originally appeared in The Organ: King of Instruments, a booklet published by the Westfield Center as part of FestivalOrgan, a travelling program in celebration of organs and organ music.
First, the reality - organs are meant to be heard “live.” To fully understand this instrument’s persuasive power, you must encounter it on its own terms, in its “space.” Nonetheless, there exist more interesting instruments than there are opportunities to hear them in person, so modern recordings offer convenient and efficient access across time and space.
Though you might not believe it based on the resources of your local record store, hundreds and hundreds of exceptional organ recordings are made each year. They cover everything from ancient music on period antiques to contemporary compositions on brand-new organs Simply knowing what is available can cause informational overload, so the following “beginner’s shopping list” may help you get started.
I recommend that you purchase your organ music in compact disc format, since CDs are convenient to use, will not wear out after multiple plays, and offer an overall level of sonic satisfaction which neither the LP (in normal circumstances) nor cassette tapes can provide. The cost of a decent CD player (as little as $130-160) is incidental to the delight in hearing recorded organ music without distortion.
I urge you to procede with a sense of adventure. My own first organ album (a Confirmation gift) featured an aged Albert Schweitzer in hardly exemplary recordings of Mendelssohn and Widor on a rather mediocre instrument. But his playing, recorded when he was in his seventies and well past his prime, still projected an admirable passion. And soon afterwards I hooked up with the E. Power Biggs historic European audio safari. One thing led to another, and the adventure had begun. Let it be so with you.
Whether you collect discs of organs, performers, or specific repertoire, don’t limit yourself to what you know, or what you think you’ll like. Keep an open mind. The most unlikely discoveries can be authentic revelations. Some composers, by their sheer stature, almost demand that we listen to their complete works. This can be a wonderful experience, though your investment in integral sets might want to await a fuller evolution of your personal preferences.
The organ is unique in the variety of experiences which it can encompass. from epoch to epoch and country to country, organs have evolved distinctly different characters while maintaining a consistent “soul”. Remember, whether it be a Werkmeister temperement or a Mighty Wurlitzer, it’s ALL organ music! Enjoy.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750) was a true multiculturalist and artistic anthropologist, who blended matters of heart and intellect and the styles of diverse epochs and nationalities into a remarkable synthesis of universal signifi-cance. Listen to Bach. Then listen again, and again. Bach is, or should be, every organist’s touch-stone. His music is more often played and more often recorded than any other organ composer. Several integral cycles recommend themselves:
Wolfgang Rubsam (Philips 438 170-2; 16-disc box, including Art of the Fugue) offers arguably the finest recording of Bach’s music ever made, featuring an exceptional pair of Metzler instruments vividly captured in rich ambience. Interpretations are always cogent, imaginative, and involved. Rubsam’s playing combines the finest aspects of his teachers, Helmut Walcha (discipline and total integrity) and Marie-Claire Alain (subtle nuance and rythmic verve). In Rubsam’s more recent Bach cycle (on the budget-priced Naxos label, available separately) you’ll enjoy a greater variety of historic and modern instruments, but the artist’s interpretations are somewhat more individualistic, even provocative, still arresting if not quite main-stream. The Naxos discs do have the advantage of low cost and easy availability, while the big Philips set may be maddeningly hard to find, though it’s sure to please.
Marie-Claire Alain (Erato 4509-096358-2; 14-disc set, contents perhaps available individually) plays on mostly historic instruments by Schnitger, Treutman, Müller, and Silbermann in the Netherlands, France and Germany. This is the capstone to Madame Alain’s life’s work, master lessons from a wise, witty and engaging teacher.
Helmut Walcha may no longer represent the last work in Bach playing, but his remain committed interpretations (Archive 12CD-419904). The young Swede, Hans Fagius (BIS Records; nine double-CD volumes available indivi-dually) is notable for exceptional insightful playing upon historic and new-built old-style Scandinavian instruments. Each album is a mini-recital, combining works of various lengths and styles for maximal enjoyment. Can’t go wrong.
Other Bach cycles, complete, in process, or fragmentary, and many individual recordings devoted exclusively to Bach’s organ works, offer endless options, and the odds are pretty good that you’ll take pleasure from the majority of them. That’s how strong Bach’s music is. Delight in the search, and be brave.
DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707), the foremost German organist before Bach, had a direct influence on the evolution of Bach’s own style. Buxtehude’s extravagant toccatas and preludes, and his varied settings of Lutheran chorales, remain essential listening. Today’s foremost organologist, Harald Vogel, has recorded it all on scrupulously restored historic German instruments (Dabringhaus & Grimm, 7 volumes). Other available Buxtehude cycles by Wolfgang Rubsam (Bellaphon) and Jean-Charles Ablitzer (Harmonic Records) also deserve a hearing.
The music of Nuremberg-based JOHANN PACHELBEL (1653-1706), beyond his ubiquitous Canon, deserves more attention than it usually receives. Dr. Marilyn Mason is recording Pachelbel’s numerous complete organ works on the elegant Fisk instrument (in style of Gottfried Silbermann) at the University of Michigan, a particularly attractive setting for the many small-scale works (Musical Heritage Society, six volumes thus far). The bigger pieces sound wonderful on the stupendously oddball 1750 Gabler organ at Weingarten Abbey as part of a mixed program played by Piet Kee (Chandos CD-0520). Also while at Weingarten, sample some of the over-the-top rococo pieces by JOHANN LUDWIG KREBS (1713-1780), one of Bach’s foremost pupils and an interesting creative talent in his own right, these lavishly and lovingly exposed by Gerhard Weinberger (Christophorus CD-74565).
To FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) we owe a debt for refocusing European musicians in the early nineteenth century on the then largly forgotten works of Bach. A charistmatic pianist, conductor and organist, Mendelssohn was the idol of the intellectual crowd. Among his many worthy compositions are Six Sonatas for Organ, Op. 65, and Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 37, all notable for melodious grace and thoughtful structure. Recent discoveries have unearthed more than a dozen heretofore “lost” works, all of which benefit from Rudolf Innig’s persuasive approach (Dabringhaus & Grimm 4CD-3487/90), though many others play this music well, too, including Englishman John Scott at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, where Mendelssohn himself made a huge impression (Hyperion 2CD-66491/2). A unique, surprising “extra” is Christoph Bossert’s ideomatic transcription for organ of Mendelssohn’s Six Piano Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35 (Intercord Saphir CD 830.860), while Raphaele Garreau de LaBarre provides a good sampler of known and unknown pieces plus some even less-known choral works (K617 CD-018)
Don’t overlook the autumnal chorale-preludes and vibrant early works of JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) which fit neatly on a single disc (Carole Terry on Musical Heritage Society CD-512523); or the famous and infamous works of FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886) (Francois-Henri Houbart on BNL CD-112772, or Stefan Johannes Bleicher, playing the Merseburg Cathedral instrument which Liszt knew, on EBS CD-6017); or the tempestuously post-romantic fantasies of MAX REGER (1873-1916), for whom there was always room for another few notes (Rosalinde Haas has recorded it all, and you can collect the twelve volumes one at a time, on the Dabringhaus & Grimm label, though there are many other options, too).
If German organ music is distinguished by its logical structure, French music would be unimaginable without color. Indeed, in the Baroque period, composers wrote specific kinds of music with particular organ registrations in mind (using the “principal chorus” for the majestic plein jeux, flutes and mutation stops in the passionate tierce en taille, the dramatic grands jeux showcasing the reeds, often in dialogue, etc.). These recipes sufficed for nearly three centuries, up until the Revolution.
Several appetizers are in order. Les Organistes du Roy Soleil explores Baroque music of MARCHAND, CLERAMBAULT, DANDRIEU and RAISON, grandly played by Pierre Bardon on the 1772 Isnard organ at Saint Maximin’s Basilica in Provence, a sonic spectacular (Pierre Verany CD-784011). Michel Bouvard uses the 18th-century organ at Cintegabelle, France, to showcase FRANCOIS COUPERIN’s (1668-1733) Messe propre pour les Couvents as it was intended to be played, in alternation with sung verses of liturgical chant (French Sony Veritas CD-57486). The Livre de Noels by LOUIS-CLAUDE DAQUIN (1694-1772) is a dozen charmingly colored variations on French Christmas carols, the “pick hits” of mid 18th-century Paris. Our pick is Pierre Bardon at Saint Maximin-en-Provence (Pierre Verany CD-783122).
After the devastation of the Revolution, a new French organ type, the symphonic organ, evolved with its own distinctive palette first explored by Franck and his followers, Widor, Vierne, Dupreé and even Messiaen. Try the following three items for overview: Recital a Notre-Dame de Paris, works by FRANCK, GIGOUT, GUILMANT, VIERNE and others, a composite of the French symphonic tradition. Titulaire Olivier Latry plays the restored Cavaillé-Coll organ (French Sony Veritas CD-64083). Another album features another of the “resident talents”, Jean-Pierre Leguay, who plays five pieces by GIGOUT and the entire First Symphony by VIERNE (Festivo CD-133). At the church of Saint Ouen in Rouen, Jan Mulder plays the 1890 Cavaillé-Col= l organ in works by TOMBELLE, DUBOIS, MULET, FRANCK and others, another excellent potpourri (Festivo CD-134).
As for specific important post-Revolution composers, CESAR FRANCK (1822-1890) deserves special credit for inventing the solo organ symphony by taking logical advantage of the innovative new instruments which Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was building in Paris. Franck may also have been urged on by his friend, pianist CHARLES-VALENTIN ALKAN (1813-1888) who three years before Franck’s Grande Piece Symphonique (dedicated to Alkan) had himself composed both a four-movement symphony and an immense 45-minute concerto for solo piano (!). Recordings of the dozen major Franck organ pieces are legion, though two integral sets are particularly compelling, Michael Murray’s on the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll instrument at the Basilica of Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Telarc 2CD-80234) and Jean Guillou’s ideosyncratic yet convincing approach on the new organ of the Church of Saint Eustache, Paris (Dorian 2CD-90135). The other Franck works, those perhaps more typical of their time and exactly the reason why the 12 Pieces stand out as such monuments, find characterful representa-tion in the hands of Joris Verdin (Arion CD-68276). And though he is really nothing more than a footnote to the story, Alkan’s pieces for pedal-piano (which Franck registered and transcribed for organ) are more than mere curiosities, as Kevin Boywer reveals (Nimbus CD-5089).
After Franck came CHARLES-MARIE WIDOR (1844-1937), whose ten organ symphonies more or less wrote the book on that topic. A decade ago, you could hardly find any recordings of some of these pieces. Since then, at least six integral symphony cycles have been issued, all of them worthwhile. Try Ben van Oosten, on appropriate period instruments (Dabringhaus & Grimm CD-3401/05), and Gunter Kaunzinger, on a convincing modern German tracker(5CDs, Novalis label). Remember, the Fifth (with the famous Toccata) and Sixth are the best of the bunch, though the more cerebral Ninth and Tenth have their advocates. And don’t pass over Widor’s grandiose Mass for TwoChoirs and Two Organs (FSM CD-97735).
For my money, though, the somewhat more intense works. . .six symphonies and several dozen imaginative character pieces. . .by the perpetually sight-impaired and chronically depressed LOUIS VIERNE (1870-1927), organist at the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, are even more interesting than those of Widor. A more recent Notre-Dame musician, the late Pierre Cochereau, turns in blazingly evocative performances of much of Vierne’s output, using the Notre-Dame instrument, and those works Cochereau didn’t manage to record his disciple George Baker did, at Saint-Ouen-de-Rouen (Solstice 8CD-911/8). Other Vierne interpretations by Wolfgang Rubsam (Bayer and RMC Classics), Olivier Latry (BNL), Marie-Claire Alain (Erato), Gunter Kaunzinger (Koch) and Ben van Oosten (Dabringhaus & Grimm) deserve a hearing. And, if you can find it, nothing beats the composer’s way, as historic reissues of 1930s performances by Vierne and Widor (plus Dupré and Messiaen) themselves prove (EMI Classics CD-55037).
While the Fantasies, Improvisations, and Preludes & Fugues by CAMILLE SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921) may not be core repertoire, they’re of more than passing pleasure. Hans Fagius is as good as any here (BIS CD-555/6), though Daniel Roth’s integral set on LP discs (French EMI Pathe) is worth the hunt. A profoundly mystic element pervades the work of CHARLES TOURENMIRE (1870-1939), Franck’s last pupil and recent beneficiary of a considerably revived interest among today’s players and listeners. Try Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet’s enticing sampler (Priory CD-328), or Georges Delvalle’s pathbreaking explorations (Arion 2CD-268105).
Widor and Vierne taught MARCEL DUPRÉ (1886-1971), perhaps the most famous French virtuoso of this century, still remembered for his numerous American recital tours and his intricate and involving improvisations and compositions. Dupré’s own disciples, Francoise Renet (Festivo CD-105), Suzanne Chaisemartin (Coriolan CD-316108), and Daniel Roth (Motette CD-10981) provide ample tribute on French instruments, but so do John Scott in London (Hyperion CD-66205), Torvald Toren in Stockholm (Proprius CD-9003) and Jeremy Filsell in Ely (Gamut CD-530).
OLIVIER MESSIAEN (1908-1992), JEAN LANGLAIS (1907-1991), JEHAN ALAIN (1911-1940), and MAURICE DURUFLÉ (1902-1986) comprise the heart of the core of the modern French organ school. Messiaen, a devout Roman Catholic, inspired by the mystic rituals of the church and the glories of nature, created his own ideosyncratic musical language which, once understood, communicates a profound message. Messiaen himself recorded the majority of his organ scores in 1956 (EMI Classics 4CD-67400), though he also smiled upon many other productions by younger advocates. Gillian Weir (Collins 7CD-70312), Jennifer Bate (Unicorn-Kanchana), Almut Roessler (Motette and Koch) and Hans-Ola Ericsson (BIS) each play the complete works, though virtually anyone who has recorded Messiaen has done so out of conviction and with real skill. Oddly provocative and satisfying, too, is Maltese composer CHARLES CAMILLERI’s (b. 1931) personal take-off on Messiaen’s spiritualism, cosmic and breathtaking images in magnetic performances by Kevin Bowyer at, of all places, Ely Cathedral (Unicorn-Kanchana CD-9151)
Back to core matters, Langlais, a pupil of Tournemire and successor to Franck, wrote prolifically, and his American pupil Ann Labounsky is working towards a complete recorded edition (Musical Heritage Society), with six multi-disc sets accomplished thus far. Langlais’own recordings, of which a number in stereo were made, are self-recommending. Jehan Alain, the composer brother of the famous performer Marie-Claire Alain, died young, but not before creating an imposing body of work, all of it worth hearing and some of it masterful without qualification. The Trois Danses, Deux Fantasies, and Litanies are the most dramatic. Madame Alain’s interpretations (Erato) cannot be bettered, though there are many fine alternatives.
Duruflé was his own worst critic, and though long-lived he completed only a dozen scores, the majority for organ or choir. A pair of albums made by Eric Lebrun and various Parisian choristers and instrumentalists (Naxos 2CDs 8.553196/77) provides expressive and thoroughly satisfying exposure to these emotive and meticulously crafted gems, while American recitalist Todd Wilson offers the organ works alone on an excellent Schudi instrument in Dallas (Delos CD-3047). Another modern American organ, by Manuel Rosales, provides the venerable Catharine Crozier with all the proper flavors for her tasty sampler of key works by Messiaen, Langlais and Alain (Delos CD-3147).
While decidedly less important from a compositional standpoint in our time, the ongoing influence of NETHERLANDS musicians must not be overlooked. Today’s principal teacher/performers such as Gustav Leonhardt (Sony Classical CD-57963, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CD-77148), Piet Kee (Chandos CD-0514), Klaas Bolt (Intersound CD-1002) and Ton Koopman (Astree CD-7775) command our attention in any of their recordings (of any repertoire). And though his folk-tune variations are more approachable than his cerebral fantasies, JAN PIETERSZOON SWEELINCK (1562-1621) was a formidable early master who, from his post in Amsterdam, absorbed every prevailing trend and passed on his wisdom to a generation of German pupils and in memorable musical scores. You cannot fully appreciate Bach without knowing Sweelinck.
Overshadowed by an incredible ongoing choral tradition, ENGLISH organ music has had a “bad rap”, partly because English music in general suffered a long lapse between the time of HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) and the rejuvinating energies of HUBERT PARRY (1848-1918), and partly because England was, after all, an insular culture with strong-held traditions. Jennifer Bate exhaustively surveys the intervening period, from Stanley to Wesley, on period instruments (Unicorn-Kanchana 6CDs), though one-disc samplers by John Butt (Harmonia Mundi CD-907103) or Simon Preston (Archive 415 675) are entertaining and efficient. Christopher Dearnley’s way with HERBERT HOWELLS (1892-1983) cannot be improved upon (Hyperion CD-66394), while Thomas Trotter (Argo, Hyperion), Christopher Herrick (Hyperion), and virtually anyone recording for Priory Records (!) display the versatile British talent (of composers, performers, organbuilders) at its best.
Don’t forget the matter of British choirs, with those of King’s College, Cambridge (EMI) and Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Hyperion) begin the most famous of many excellent ensembles. And though American, Thomas Murray offers ideomatic and glowing accounts of several EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934) scores in a recording good enough to make the English week, on the landmark E.M. Skinner organ at Woolsey Hall, Yale University (Gothic CD-49076).
The quintessential ITALIAN organist, GIROLAMO FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643), a passionate, emotional and popular figure, created an ideomatic new style for the keyboard which all of Europe would emulate and embellish. Sergio Vartolo is fully attuned to the soul of this chimerical music (Tactuc CD-58060704/5/6), for which the wise and wonderful instruments from the 15th and 16th centuries at the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna provide exquisite voice. Rinaldo Alessandrini provides a pointful overview of 150 years of the early Italian scene (Opus 111 label). Then there’s that long interval during which Italians focused on opera and instrumental music, leaving the organ to virtually everyone else until ENRICO BOSSI (1861-1925 whose cause the young Finnish recitalist Majha Lehtonin is sympathetically dedicated (Dabringhaus & Grimm CD 320-0545).
From our perspective, the SPANISH organ culture seems exotic and remote, its music and instruments lost in an historic time-warp. Because of the registrational and tonal peculiarities of Spanish organs this repertoire, more than any other, really requires “period instruments” for full enjoyment. An exceptional 10-disc set (items available separately, Valois CDs-4645/4654) showcases instruments in Salamanca, Seville, Mayorca, Montblanc, Daroca, and other settings off the beaten track. Exceptional performances and sonics reveal a rich heritage from the sixteenth century forward to our time. As a sampler, try Guy Bovet’s recital of works by Cabezon, Sancta Maria, Jimenez, Lidon, and Castillo, plus his own irreverent fantasy in Spanish style (Valois CD-4650).
Spanish-style instruments exist in abundance in the “New World”, testament to the advanced cultural status of Mexico where organs were reported in use as early as the mid sixteenth century. Donald Joyce showcases instruments in Guanajuato, Santa Prisca and La Valenciana (Titanic CD-187, 188, 201), while Dominique Ferran reveals the powerfully evocative voice of the recently-restored little 8-rank instrument from 1650 in the village of Tlacochahuaya, near Oaxaca (K617 CD-049).
Last on our geographic survey, AMERICAN organ music makes up in vitality and variety what it might lack in ancient history. Gunter Kaunzinger provides an excitingly patriotic if not particularly ideomatic selection from three centuries (Christophorus CD-74521). David Craighead’s potpourri of 19th century folk (Gothic CD-49021), David Britton’s exceptional assemblage of art deco music (Delos CD-3111) and Pamela Decker’s arresting album of very modern pieces, including a WILLIAM ALBRIGHT (b. 1944) ballet (Albany CD-140) might begin to whet your appetite.
Michael Burkhardt embellishes traditional hymns in an engaging modern manner (MorningStar CD-11), and Bruce Neswick proves that a traditional tracker-action instrument (by Richards, Fowkes and Co.) can play both SCHEIDEMANN and SOWERBY with conviction (Raven OAR-240). Organ duets, though not a solely American involvement, are the life’s work of Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault, whose albums (Gothic CD-49043 and CD-49073) give a sense of what’s possible when two people sit at one organ console. I’ve a particular attachment to the collection of multi-ethnic America works played by Herndon Spillman on the largest American mechanical-action instrument (Titanic CD-205). The sound is great; I recorded it.
For a maximal exposure to some modern American minimalist trends, Donald Joyce’s involved interpretations of selections by PHILIP GLASS (Catalyst CD-61825) achieve near-profundity through the tangible tone of the Brombaugh organ at Southern College in Tennessee. The more conservative side of the American coin is ably represented in Lorenz Maycher’s all LEO SOWERBY (1895-1968) sampler (Raven OAR-310), or the Gloria Dei Cantores program of Sowerby choral works (Paraclete CD-016), or the first stereo recordings of some Sowerby pieces for organ and isntruments with David Mulbury and friends (Marco Polo CD 8.223725).
American organbuilders, too, may not have the depth of history of their European counterparts, but have accomplished much wonderful work. Our American instrumental heritage is widely documented by the work of the Organ Historical Society. Bruce Stevens provides a perfect example of the persuasive power of 19th century American instruments in a potpourri program on the 1871 Hook organ now at Saint Mary’s Church, New Haven (Raven OAR-280), the equal of the best of Europe from that period.
SOME ESSENTIAL MISCELLANIES simply cannot be overlooked. The combination of organ and orchestra always affords pleasure, whether in the chamber-sized Sixteen Concertos by Handel (Tachezi/Harnoncourt on Teldec, or Daniel Chorzempa on Musical Heritage Society) or the more extravagant outpourings such as the Saint-Saens Third Symphony (Zamkochian/Munch on RCA), Poulenc Concerto (ditto), or Jongen Symphonie Concertante (Fox/Pretre on EMI Classics). Organ with brass and percussion is another sure-fire delight (try Pomp and Pipes with Paul Riedo and the Dallas Wind Symphony on Reference Records CD-58, or Joan Lippincott and the Philadelphia Brass on Gothic CD-49072). The matter of organ with choir requires its own separate discography, though you can’t do without an album by the combined choirs of the Washington National Cathedral and San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral (Light’s Glittering Morn, EMI Classics CD-54134), sure to make the spirit shimmer. And for a startling display of an organ’s accompanimental potential in everything from folksongs to Mahler to Broadway, listen as vocalist Hakan Hagegard and organist Gunnar Idenstam make the wild echoes dance (Proprius CD-9040). Though “modern music” often scares people away, I urge you to explore Christoph Maria Moosmann’s way with works by CAGE, PART and SCLESI (New Albion CD-74) and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent’s collaboration with soprano Sarah Leonard in works by GORECKI and GAVIN BRYARS (ECM CD-1495) which approaches the angelic .
No organ fancier should be without at least one recording by the two mega-stars, Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs, whose charismatic talents galvanized the enthusiasms of organ lovers in mid-century. Try Biggs on the famous Flentrop tracker-action organ at Harvard University (Bach Organ Favorites; Sony/CBS MK-42644) or as he explores the multi-choral works of Gabrieli at San Marco Basilica in Venice (CBS/Sony MK-42645). Fox was a master of kaleidoscopic registrations, shown to particular effect in his Riverside Church tapes (The Art of Virgil Fox; EMI Classics CD-65426; Virgil Fox Encores, RCA CD-61251). Though only in good mono sound, Fox’s last Riverside concert recording (Virgil Fox 1912-1980, Soli Deo Gloria; Bainbridge 2CD-8005) includes his own inimitable commentary.
Certain instruments, either because of their size or their site, are automatically appealing. At Longwood Gardens, the country estate of the duPont Family, we find a spacious ballroom as part of a floral conservatory in which is located what is likely the world’s largest “house organ”, a 1930 Aeolian with 10,000 pipes. Peter Richard Conte plays hors d’oeuvres by Mendelssohn, Sullivan, Debussy, Wagner and others with extraordinary vitality and grace (DTR CD-9303; Direct-to-Tape Recording Company).
Nearby in Philadelphia, the former Wanamaker Store (recently purchased by May Department Stores, Co.) boasts the largest playable pipe organ in the world, a colossal assembly in chambers rising seven stories above the building’s central Grand Court. Virgil Fox made a celebrated recording there (Bainbridge CD-2501) as did the late Keith Chapman, Wanamaker organist from 1966 to 1989) (Vantage 2CD-69-694-001).
Out west, the Mormon Tabernacle is annual destination for millions of true believers and tourists, its miraculous acoustics providing perpetual enhance-ment to the daily recitals on the 206-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ played by the several staff musicians (John Longhurst and Robert Cundick, Argo 430 426; Clay Christiansen, Klavier CD-11044; Richard Elliott, Pro Organo CD-7036)
In Garden Grove, California, Frederick Swann knows best how to display the combined effects of 16,000 pipes at the Crystal Cathedral (Gothic CD-49049), while San Diego’s authority on outdoor organs, Robert Plimpton, does his best in revealing the character of the unique Austin instrument, the Spreckels Organ in the Balboa Park Pavillion (Spreckels Organ Society, Box 6726, San diego, Ca 92166).
More than a hundred years old, and itself once the largest organ in the world, English builder William Hill’s 1890 masterpiece at the Sydney Town Hall in Australia, still boasts a unique full-length 64-foot Contra Trombone register which sounds its lowest pitch of eight cycles-per-second during several selections in City Organist Robert Ampt’s varied recital (Move CD-3148). And the world’s oldest playable organ, dating from 1390, at the Chateau of Valere in Switzerland, surely deserves your curiosity (Gallo CD-088)
The list goes on and on and on. And while we’re running out of room, I must include the matter of THEATRICAL THRILLS. Some like it hot, others turn up their noses, but the theatre organ requires every bit as much technique and musicianship as its classical counterpart, and the populist repertoire will always raise a smile or tug the heartstrings. Lyn Larsen, Tom Hazleton, Hector Olivera, Ron Rhode, Walter Strony, and many others, old and young, find fun and fascination in the sparkling sounds of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” (or Robert- Morton, or Kimball, or Barton. . .other theatre-organ brands).
The living godfather of American theatre organists is, unarguably, George Wright, whose early 1950s recordings helped revive interest in this particular branch of the organ art. An increasing catalog of his work embraces both remasterings of excellent older analog material (from the San Francisco Fox and Chicago Theatres), plus new digital recordings on his Hollywood Philharmonic Organ (a custom-tweaked studio installation). George’s albums are available almost solely through: Banda Records, P.O. Box 1620, Agoura Hills, CA 91376-1620.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two recordings (so far) produced from performances in the PIPEDREAMS archive…Pipedreams Premieres (CD-1001) and Pipedreams Live! (CD-1002), each indescribable in the space available here, yet further vivid testimony to the multiple characters and unimaginable potentials of the organ and its music. From BACH to WILLIAM BOLCOM (b. 1938).
I’ve tried to list discs which are of recent vintage and have some likelihood of actually being available. In today’s music business, items come and go from the catalogs of major labels, importers add and delete materials, small-volume producers appear from nowhere and, just as abruptly, go out of business after a few laudable attempts. It can drive you crazy.
Rather than apply to each and every record company, you will do best by dealing with a few well-connected suppliers:
Good luck in the hunt. Shop wisely (and often!), listen thoughtfully, and enjoy!
The Organ Historical Society [OHS]: with enough variety to keep you interested but not so much as to overwhelm, the OHS catalog is an excellent “first-stop” for the curious organ record collector. Along with its quarterly scholarly journal (The Tracker), its annual convention jamborees, and its preservation-ist activities on behalf of organs in America, this non-profit organization sells an impressive array of domestic and imported classical and theater-organ recordings, several produced by the Society itself.
P.O. Box 26811
Richmond, VA 23261
804-353-9226, fax: 804-353-9266
Web site: www.organsociety.org
(Visit the extensive OHS online catalog of current classical and theatre organ recordings, domestic and imported. While international money orders will work for foreign orders, Visa and MasterCard charges work better.)
Gothic Records: an independent distributor, specializing in American and European products plus an impressive list of discs on its own Gothic label; write for a catalog.
PO Box 6406
Anaheim, CA 92816-6406
The Organ Literature Foundation [OLF]: a current catalog ($2) lists nearly 4,000 in-stock classical and theater-organ, calliope and band-organ records, and many out-of-print and otherwise unavailable materials, plus books and pamphlets on organ history and design. Prices may not be the lowest, but some items here cannot be found elsewhere.
Organ Literature Foundation
45 Norfolk Road
Braintree, MA 02184
(The OLF catalog is particularly well-stocked with LP discs, out-of-print and hard-to-find imports, along with many current offerings, plus organ books and scores.)
Musical Heritage Society: a mail-order operation which produces some very interesting (and unique) organ-related items (see Pachelbel, Brahms, Langlais above). Write for information to:
Musical Heritage Society
1710 Highway 35
Oakhurst, NJ 07755
732-531-7000; fax 732-517-0438
American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS): This organization of more than 6,000 members is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the theatre organ. We urge you to join others with similar interests for: concerts, competitions, educational programs, workshops, regional and annual conventions with nationally known artists. Contact:
P.O. Box 1324
Elmhurst, IL 60126-8324