Organ Polychrome (HDCD review)
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'
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.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.