Historic Organs of Pennsylvania

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Historic Organs of Pennsylvania is a gigantic survey of 31 Pennsylvania organs built between 1780 and 1933, consisting of 68 tracks played by an equal number of organists spread out over four discs. It comes with a 36-page booklet that provides a wealth of detail on a program so extensive, down to encapsulated summaries of the registration of each organ. The instruments range from clattery, slightly larger than household-size organs built by David Tannenberg in the late eighteenth century to a huge, streamlined Aeolian-Skinner concert organ located in the Hershey Community Theater in Hershey, PA. The entire set was recorded in just one week, during the Organ Historical Society's annual convention in 2003. Most, if not all, of these performances are taken from live recitals given as part of the conference, and for this reason there is quite a bit of distracting extraneous sound throughout this set, sometimes from the audience, from ambient sounds such as passing cars, and even some unavoidable racket coming from older organs in this set. The OHS chooses its organists well, as there are relatively few mistakes in the pieces played across four discs, but some of the recordings are rather distant and one prospective gem, Thomas P. Ryder's immensely silly nineteenth century novelty The Thunder Storm (which calls for "thunderists" and "lightningists") is spoiled by audience laughter so loud it drowns out the music. Nonetheless, it is a real treat to hear works of early American composers such as Benjamin Carr and Oliver Shaw heard played on organs of the kind they would have played themselves. Moreover, the program is sprinkled with all kinds of interesting repertory choices; after all, these performances were designed for organists and organ fanciers to enjoy, as opposed to representing the commercial taste employed by a typical record company. Ultimately, organ lovers are the listeners Historic Organs of Pennsylvania would best appeal to, although even they might find reason to object to the high level of non-musical rumpus in these recordings. It's up to the listener to determine how much extraneous noise spoils the broth, and Historic Organs of Pennsylvania is prepared in a pretty big kettle.

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