Jane Parker-Smith

Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ, Vol. 1

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Avie is a label that serves as a clearinghouse for recording projects conducted on the "own dime" of prominent classical artists and ensembles. It is fortunate that Avie has connected with English organist Jane Parker-Smith, a very well-known personality in the U.K. owing to her television appearances, busy concert schedule, and radio broadcasts. On Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ, Vol. 1, Parker-Smith plays the Goll organ of St. Martin in Memmingen, Germany, a new and thoroughly high-tech organ installed only in 1998 by Swiss builders to French specifications. The quality of this recording is such that some low notes in the Jongen Sonata Eroïca rattled the frame of the SUV in which it was listened to for purposes of review. This a big, loud organ, and Parker-Smith is at the top of her game, both in terms of technical ability and in the way she handles this instrument's registration.

The disc kicks off with a dazzling work by an unfamiliar composer, the Toccata by Frenchman Marcel Lanquetuit, a blazing showpiece in the manner of Jehan Alain's Litanies except that it is a little closer stylistically to Wagner. The Choral in F sharp minor by short-lived composer Joseph Boulnois is superbly colorful and harmonically innovative for its era. Henri Mulet's Rosace is more enigmatic and closer to the spirit of Satie -- here the phenomenal flute rank of the Goll is heard to great effect. York Bowen's short Melody in G minor is captivating and Wilhelm Middelschulte's Passacaglia in D minor is ruggedly chromatic in a manner similar to Middelschulte's friend Busoni, but not as experimental. The only thing that doesn't seem to work, at least in context with the other pieces on Parker-Smith's program, is Percy Whitlock's Fantasie Choral No. 1, which goes on a bit long for the ideas it contains.

Fanciers of organ recordings can be a catholic lot when it comes to repertoire that exists for the "king of instruments," tending to focus more on the quality of the instrument and of the player. Romantic and Virtuoso Works for Organ, Vol. 1, will please even based on the selection; expert listeners will find this way above average. Non-experts might do well to obtain this title if they would like to hear an organ of immense power, and are not afraid of a release, which, to some ears, might seem like being in church.

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