AMERICANA - Jeremy Filsell (Organ) - The Great Organ of Washington National Cathedral

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AMERICANA - Jeremy Filsell (Organ) - The Great Organ of Washington National Cathedral - 2-Disc Set - 003469694223 - Released: September 2012 - Raven OAR-942

1} Raymond Weidner - Scherzo (Alleluia)
2} Gerre Hancock - Variations on "Palm Beach"
3} Nancy Plummer Faxon - Toccata
4} Leo Sowerby - Prelude "Were you there?"
5} Leo Sowerby - Toccata
6} Leo Sowerby - Carillon
7} Gerald Near - Sonata
8} George Baker - Berceuse-paraphrase
9} Pamela Decker - La Pantera
10} David Briggs - Three Preludes and Fugues "Homage à Marcel Dupré"
11} Richard Dirksen - Urbs Beata
12} Daniel Gawthrop - Elegy
13} Daniel Gawthrop - Caprice
14} Norman Coke-Jephcott - Fantasie on a National Air
15} Richard Purvis - Novelette II
16} Richard Purvis - A Retrospection
17} Douglas Major - Concertino

The last time I reviewed a CD (seen here) featuring the organ of the Washington National Cathedral, I pointed out that the liner notes of that recording mentioned that it would be the final recording of this instrument before its replacement. Obviously not. It seems that budget constraints have, until further notice, delayed any renovation or upgrade plans for now. Here we have another new recording that clearly demonstrates that this wonderful instrument need not be replaced. Even though the original Op. 510 E. M. Skinner Organ has undergone many additions and revisions over the years, it is still a remarkable and impressive pipe organ.

This CD celebrates the cathedral's 100th anniversary by showcasing works by American-based composers somehow affiliated with the cathedral's musical life, and most of the pieces collected here are welcome world première recordings. There's nothing like hitherto unheard music to stimulate interest. Organist Jeremy Filsell certainly picked a selection of works that, each in their own distinct way, emphasize the qualities of this large pipe organ, from its beautiful Carillon to its powerful Trompette en Chamade or seismic wave producing 64' Bombarde Basse.

Highlights include the technically challenging Toccata by Nancy Plummer Faxon. The Prelude "Were you there?" and Carillon by Leo Sowerby, both of which are perfectly suited to display this organ's gentle singing voice and beautiful, mellow flute stops. Jeremy Filsell takes all the time in the world to allow the beauty and serenity of Prelude "Were you there?" to transport your soul. You wish the ever-so-quiet final chord would never end. George Baker's evocatively stirring contemplation on the baby Jesus in his Berceuse-paraphrase, masterfully crafted around the melody to "Away in a manger", ending on a sublime note with the surprise inclusion of the first four notes of "Silent Night". This piece would make a wonderful addition to any Christmas concert or CD. All three offerings by David Briggs, most particularly the fugues, all worked out over some rather challenging harmonic progressions. The sure-to-put-a-grin-on-your-face Novelette II by Richard Purvis, with its quasi barrel-organ antics. And last but not least, the "dispose of your neighbours" Concertino in three movements by Douglas Major. Its powerful final movement titled Celebration makes full use of all the organ's stops, including the impressive Trompette en Chamade and the pedal 32' and 64' stops. I wouldn't be surprised if the organist and recording technician went around the cathedral afterwards checking all the stained-glass windows for cracks.

Organist Jeremy Filsell performs every piece with flair and makes a point to seek out each one's unique characteristics, and matches them to this instruments versatility, beauty and power. The people at Raven Recordings once again prove that the full dynamic range of a pipe organ of this magnitude, and the natural acoustics of the edifice it occupies, can be captured with exactness and true fidelity.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2012