Andreas Sieling

Charles Tournemire: Organ Music

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MDG's Tournemire: Improvisations, or as given on the back cover, Musica Mystica Gregorianik in Dialog, features the Schola der Berliner Domkantorei under leader Tobias Brommann and organist Andreas Sieling. The basic premise is this: the Schola sings a chant, then Tournemire's corresponding improvisation follows in a performance by Sieling. Along the way, other works by Tournemire that have little or nothing to do with chant are heard, so many that in sheer running time the non-chant-based works play longer overall than the chant-based ones. That would be all right if these performances were good ones; unfortunately, Sieling's playing, while accomplished, is not particularly inspired. The Schola is an average European chant choir, and in chant, "average" is not bad, though in its reading of the Ave Maris Stella it gradually drifts off pitch not long after the piece starts, putting in a below-average showing for this particular hymn.

However, neither of these inequities sinks this super high-end, hybrid multichannel disc; ironically enough, it is the sound quality. The seconds-long Te Deum incipit played on organ that opens the disc literally blares out of one's speakers, but then the chorus comes in for an eight-minute rendering of the Te Deum that can't be heard unless you really crank up the volume -- a lot. And that sets the stage for most of what follows; a few measures of organ pin you against the wall, succeeded by a long passage that you can't really make out; the opening, for example, of the Andantino from the Dix Pièces dans le style libre is ridiculously quiet.

Pipe organs are notoriously difficult to record because they can produce frequencies that are easy to detect by the ear that nevertheless seem to evade the most sensitive recording equipment. Digital recording technology has gone a long way toward improving the situation, particularly as you can see what you are recording, but with some engineers this has led to a lack of common sense in terms of what is truly audible. There is much magic to behold in Tournemire's mystical, exotic, rarefied sacred organ music, and the idea of relating it to the chant he used as its basis is a useful one. Nevertheless, job one in making any recording is to produce a result that the ordinary listener -- as opposed to a teenager or a dog -- can hear, and in this sense, MDG's Tournemire: Improvisations is a non-starter.

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