George Montalba

Pipe Organ Favorites/Fantasy in Pipe Organ and Percussion

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This CD reissues two albums of pipe organ music by George Montalba: Fantasy in Pipe Organ and Percussion from 1958 and Pipe Organ Favorites from 1957 (sequenced in that order on the disc). Its interest depends on what you are looking for, because besides the music itself, this reissue dispels the mystery around the Montalba pseudonym in a tale fit for a television series. In a 16-page booklet, Hit Thing producer Toby Dammit attributes the albums (and the name) to Robert Hunter, an arranger who worked on Broadway for a while, instead of the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, who had claimed he was the real Montalba in 1989. Dammit retraced Hunter -- a process he explains in details in the liner notes -- and commissioned an essay from LaVey's daughter (and ex-Church of Satan spokesperson) Zeena Schreck to present both sides of the story. Beyond the anecdotal, the music itself is worth a listen, but if you can't help but chuckle at the thought of pipe organ music (or its later incarnation, Hammond-à-gogo), stay away. Pipe Organ Favorites features an uneven selection of classical themes (Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Wagner), popular songs (including the Civil War-era "Aura Lea," which was later stolen -- or "rewritten" -- to become Elvis Presley's famous ballad "Love Me Tender"), and the inevitable march (Sousa, who else?). The sound quality is shaky; the master tapes must have been very degraded, if they still existed at all. Fantasy in Pipe Organ and Percussion sounds generally better (but has been obviously remastered from a copy of the LP) and the selection is a lot more daring. Hunter's arrangements of Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, Borodin's Polotvian Dances, and Ketèlbey's In a Persian Market were dark and scary enough to give credibility to LaVey's claim. The quality of the remastering may not match the sleek packaging and liner notes, but this remains a very odd item from an era long gone.

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