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CD Review

Organ Originals

  • Louis Vierne: Carillon de Westminster
  • Charles-Marie Widor: Symphony #5 in F minor, Op. 42 #1
  • Julius Reubke: Sonata in C minor "The 94th Psalm"
Simon Preston, organ
Deutsche Grammophon 4791926 71:03
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This installment of the "Originals" is a very pleasant surprise. Organ recitals have a very limited audience, even those from Westminster Abbey. Simon Preston was arguably at the height of his powers as an artist when he set down these two-LPs worth of music in 1984-1985, and Deutsche Grammophon captures everything with far more realism than the Berlin Philharmonic of the same era.

The Carillon de Westminster imitates and explores the famous theme of London's Big Ben – you'll know it when you hear it – and makes a very fine opening number. While Preston is an accomplished virtuoso, he builds the music with surprising grace and finally pulls out the stops (couldn't help it, sorry) for a rousing conclusion. Rhythmically, this is very impressive. The Widor symphony is known primarily for its whiz-bang final Toccata, but the whole work demonstrates the composer's total mastery of the idiom. The coloristic diversity and cogency of the arcs of sound distinguishes this performance from others. The often-alone Toccata has been played more swiftly and daringly elsewhere, but fits well into Preston's more emotionally balanced conception.

The Reubke is a nice nod to a composer too-little known outside of the organ and piano communities. It's not the easiest music to love, being – like much of the modern German organ school – a touch rambling and bloated given the overall material. Still, there are moments of supreme beauty and nuance, with the considerable range of the Westminster instrument on display. It sounds nothing like a psalm, despite the subtitle, but does have a majestic air about it. For a casual listener, I imagine that the first half of the program is easier listening, but the entire disc is a must for those who admire "The King of Instruments".

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman