Joseph Nolan

The Organ of St. Bavo, Haarlem

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When E. Power Biggs took organ music to the top of the charts -- pop, sometimes, as well as classical -- in the 1950s and 1960s, it was often by exploring the sounds of a single organ. Australian organist Joseph Nolan takes the same approach with this lovely exploration of the organ of the Church of St. Bavo (the Grote Kerk) in Haarlem, the largest organ in the world when it was built in the mid-18th century and still an imposing structure that dominates its space to an unusual degree. Handel, Mozart, and Mendelssohn played it. It is said to make you feel as though you are inside the instrument, and that's the effect sought by Signum's engineers, who do a wonderful job that will be revealed in full only to those with the equipment to make it happen. The program takes the form of a complete survey of the instrument's capabilities (an arrangement of the Bach Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin, BWV 1004, by French organist Henri Messerer), shorter works that explore its various sonorities, and finally, a remarkable work that exploits every facet of the organ's sound and is quite neglected, to boot. Julius Reubke, who died at the age of 24, was Liszt's star pupil and one who in his few surviving works showed signs of going beyond his teacher. The Sonata for organ on the 94th Psalm is modeled on Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam; it's slightly shorter at nearly 26 minutes in Nolan's masterful performance, but structurally more complex. It's a remarkable work, matched perfectly to the instrument on which it is played here. Sample the 94th Psalm and you may well be hooked into the entire album. Other attractions include the notes by Nolan and Ates Orga, which cover technical material in an engaging and relevant way. In a time when organ recordings rarely make the charts, it's no surprise that this one has.

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