Gillian Weir – The King of Instruments (1987-88/2010)

by | Apr 21, 2012 | CD+DVD

Gillian Weir – The King of Instruments (1987-88/2010)
All six episodes of the BBC TV Series; six magnificent organs
Performer & Host: Organist Gillian Weir [TrackList follows]
Studio: BBC/Priory PRDVD 7001 (Distr. by Albany) CD + DVD
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: English PCM stereo on DVD
Length: 152 minutes
Rating: *****

When it was telecast on the BBC in 1989, this series of six programs had an audience of two million, second only to the Charles & Diana Wedding. It was a co-production which involved several different broadcasters, and made use not only of early color videotape but also of TV production techniques that were groundbreaking at the time. The material for the separate CD was recorded separately using the digital gear of the time, rather than from the soundtrack of the TV series, and the CD contains just six selections—one drawn from each of the programs on the six different organs: Works of Bach, Daquin, Liszt, Handel, Vierne and Franck.
The DVD may be viewed all the way thru or just individual episodes. There are six great organs in all for the six episodes, with anywhere from three to six selections appropriate to each organ performed on them. The works are:
St. Bavo, Haarlem, The Netherlands
Abbey Church, Ottobeuren, Germany
St. Knud’s, Odense, Denmark
Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Hedvig Eleonora Kyrka, Stockholm, Sweden
St. Ouen, Rouen, France
This is the first time since its original telecasts that the series is being issued on DVD or any video, and the first time the soundtrack is being heard in stereo, as originally recorded. Prior to each selection, Dame Gillian Weir talks about the particular selections and instruments. Her notes are directed to the general public probably unfamiliar with the music, and are well-researched and interesting to any viewer. There are excellent shots of the multiple keyboards on the organs, with frequent cuts to Dame Weir’s feet flitting about the foot pedals. There are many shots of the ornate interiors of the churches in which the six organs are located, and Dame Weir changes her outfit frequently, sort of a sampling of 80s fashion. There are also other images, such as closeups of French impressionist paintings during the Dupre Variations on a Noel. Weir has done a fine job of selecting varied works that demonstrate the individual capabilities of the six different organs, and in each episode they often contrast starkly with one another.  For example, a movement of one of Handel’s organ concerti is followed by a rousing rendition of David Patrick’s transcription for pipe organ of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Another thrilling moment in the program is the exceptional power of Mulet’s Tu es Petra (long one of my favorite organ works) on the organ in the Stockholm church.
Dame Gillian Weir is one of the great pipe organ virtuosi of today, and has become known both for her performances and recordings of the organ music of Messiaen, as well as J.S. Bach.  She has no trouble quickly moving from one keyboard to another on the larger organs—often as many as four keyboards and endless stops to pull and push—and the visual coverage is all the more amazing when one learns that only a single video camera was used in the original shooting. Must have required a tremendous amount of work cutting together various shots.  Recording the organs was no easy task either: The Cavaillé-Coll organ at Rouen was so loud there were stringent restrictions as to when it could be recorded. This is a well-crafted and most informative program. The clean PCM stereo can be decoded as Dolby ProLogic or an equivalent for the most immersive sonics.
St. Bavo =
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
J.S. Bach
2 Variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End
Jan Sweelinck
Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552b
Noël in D minor
Louis-Claude Daquin
Ottobeuren =
Sonata for two organs (with Huw Tregelles Williams)
Giovanni Lucchinetti
Toccata Duodecima
Georg Muffat
Piece in C major for a Clock Organ
Joseph Haydn
Sonata No. 4 in D major (First Movement)
Franz Xavier Schnitzer
Extracts from Messe pour les Couvents
François Couperin
Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C major
Dietrich Buxtehude
St Knud’s =
“Echo” Fantaisie in E flat major
Camille Saint-Saëns
Prelude and Fugue on BACH
Franz Liszt
Toccata in F (Symphony No.5)
Charles-Marie Widor

Ulster Hall =
Concerto No.4 in F major (First Movement)
G.F. Handel
Ride of the Valkyries
Richard Wagner (arr. David Patrick)
Variations on America
Charles Ives
Moto ostinato from Sunday Music
Petr Eben

Hedvig Eleonora =
Naïades, from Pieces de Fantaisie
Louis Vierne
Tu es Petra, from Esquisses Byzantines
Henri Mulet
Variations sur un Noël
Marcel Dupré
Dieu parmi nous, from La Nativité du Seigneur
Olivier Messiaen
Rouen =
Elfes from 12 Pieces pour Orgue Op.7
Joseph Bonnet
Choral No.3 in A minor
César Franck
—John Sunier

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