Organ Polychrome (HDCD review)

The French School. Jan Kraybill, organ. Reference Recordings RR-133.

Can you really think of anyone you'd rather have make an organ record than Reference Recordings? Well, anyone you'd rather have making any recording than Reference Recordings. For over thirty years they've been producing some of the best audiophile recordings around, and their current release, Organ Polychrome: The French School, with organist Jan Kraybill is among their finest-sounding releases.

To quote from RR's notes, Ms. Kraybill "regularly plays and oversees the care of the three largest pipe organs in the Kansas City metro area: the Community of Christ Auditorium's 113-rank Aeolian-Skinner (installed in 1959) and Temple's 102-rank Casavant (1993), and the 102-rank Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant (2011) at the Kauffman Center's Helzberg Hall. At the Kauffman Center, she performs and hosts guest organists in both solo and collaborative musical events, including regular appearances with a major tenant of the Center, the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus. As a junior in high school in Colby, Kansas, Jan Kraybill performed her first European piano recital in Andover, England. She earned education and piano performance degrees from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, and her doctorate in organ performance is from the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2010 she earned the Fellow certificate from the American Guild of Organists, the highest certification available for organists. Dr. Kraybill maintains an active concert career, having appeared as a soloist and collaborative artist throughout the United States and in Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Russia, South Korea, and Tahiti; she has been featured at regional and national conventions of the AGO and other musicians'
organizations."

In Organ Polychrome: The French School, Ms. Kraybill plays music intended to show off all the power and glory of the Julia Irene Kauffman Organ. She does so splendidly; it is all quite effective. The program includes the Allegro from Symphony No.6 in G minor by Charles-Marie Wider (1844-1937); a world premiere of Priere (Prelude in G minor) by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958); the Allegro and Pas vite from Deux danses a Agni Yavishta by Jehan Alain (1911-1940); Variations de Concert by Joseph Bonnet (1884-1944); Scherzo by Maurice Durufle (1902-1986); Prelude et Fugue in G minor by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971); Piece heroque by Cesar Franck (1822-1890); Caprice in B flat by Felix-Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911); several items from Pieces de fantaisie by Louis Vierne (1870-1937); and the Grand-Choeur dialogue from Six pieces by Eugene Gigout (1844-1925).

Starting with the Widor number is like starting a concert with an overture. It's big, it's colorful, it grabs you by the throat. Ms. Kraybill doesn't overplay it, though, or make it sound too bombastic; it just works as a good curtain-raiser. Then, Ms. Kraybill follows the big Widor tune with a world-premiere recording from Schmitt. He wrote it around the turn of the twentieth century, and it's quite sweet and expressive. Indeed, Ms. Kraybill's playing is also sweet and expressive, robust when needed, sensitive at other times. Very entertaining.

And so it goes, with a variety of selections geared toward exhibiting all of the organ's many facets (and Ms. Kraybill's many performing talents). The delicate Alain piece is a special standout, with its vaguely Asian motifs and soft bass notes that wash over the listener like huge, warm waves at a beach. Then, too, Franck's well-known Piece heroique sounds strikingly handsome on this most-striking organ, producing a joyously successful result. And speaking of joy, the Guilmant track displays a wonderfully light, bouncy rhythm that's hard to dislike. Lastly, Ms. Kraybill goes out the way she came in, with a big, robust reading of the Gigout work that leaves the rafters rattling.

Producers Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin, and Marcia Gordon Martin and engineer Keith O. Johnson made the album in 24-bit HDCD for Reference Recordings at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri in June 2013. Unlike the last few organ recordings I listened to, which were swimming in cavernous hall resonance, this one exhibits just enough reverberation to let us know we're in a concert hall and show off the room acoustics yet also emphasizes the detail and clarity of the organ. The instrument sounds rich, wide-ranging, realistically distanced, deep, full-throated, powerful, and lifelike. Of course, we also get the all-important bass so favored of organ fans; the organ gets down to room-rocking frequencies in select tracks. This is obviously a recording that organ fanciers will enjoy.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa