Organ Works of LISZT, REUBKE & MENDELSSOHN – Stephen Cleobury, organist – Kings College

Organ Works of LISZT, REUBKE & MENDELSSOHN – Stephen Cleobury, organist – multichannel SACD Kings College KGS0010 69:15 (5/12/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The King’s College music label has produced a highly listenable disc of music performed on the Harrison and Harrison organ set within the chapel at King’s College in Cambridge. The organ has not previously been recorded in high resolution formats or surround sound. Originally built in the 19th century to replace an earlier instrument, the organ has been modernized several times and is due for a major renovation in 2016.

The disc opens with Liszt’s Fantasie und Fugue über den choral Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, The piece is based on a theme from Act 1 of Meyerbeer’s grand opera Le Prophète, a work of three sections: the Fantasy, Adagio and Fugue.

We also get a performance of Julius Reubke’s Gothic Organ Sonata on the 94th Psalm. It’s thought to have been inspired by Liszt’s Fantasie und Fugue über den choral. It’s a difficult piece to play and it requires superb pedal technique.  Reubke is the least-known composer represented on the disc. He died in 1858 at the age of 24, but had an impressive output of both piano and organ music. The sonata is considered among the great organ works, so it is especially nice to have it represented here. The sonata is a symphonic poem, with the movements thematically connected yet each is able to stand on its own.

The album concludes with Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata No. 6 in D minor. Based on Bach’s chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich, this piece demonstrates Mendelssohn’s mastery of organ textures.

Stephen Cleobury, Director of Music at Kings College is the organist on this disc, and he gives us a rousing and inspiring performance. His pedal mastery is excellent on the difficult Rebuke sonata.

The King’s College Chapel is well known for its marvelous acoustics, so the multichannel mix gives us a good facsimile of the acoustic space. The organ is up front, and the faint echoes of the organ ripple toward the back of the room in a realistic fashion. Happily, it’s a full 5.1 disc, so your subwoofer will get a workout during the low pedal notes.

“Organ works” is a highly listenable disc. I also auditioned the CD stereo layer and found it good, but not as impactful as listening in full surround.

—Mel Martin

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