PETER RICHARD CONTE – Virgil Fox Remembered – with organist Peter Richard Conte playing the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia (TrackList follows) – Raven 976, 67:00 (7/12/16) ***1/2:

A heartfelt tribute to master showman and organist Virgil Fox.

Virgil Fox was a colorful musical personality and also a superb organist. In the 1970s Fox gained recognition with his ‘Heavy Organ’ concerts, primarily playing Bach and getting praise from young music listeners who appreciated the power of the organ and the flamboyance of Mr. Fox who introduced each piece to cheers and general mayhem. I think Mr. Fox brought a lot of young people to classical music, a very good deed.

Back in the day I interviewed Fox for NPR and he was a wild interview. Not your typical church organist. Several Fox discs are still in the catalog, Even a few of his RCA recordings have been remastered for SACD.  [I sat on the floor of St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco and listened to one of Fox’s concerts in the ‘70s…Ed.]

The CD reviewed here is not a Fox re-release, but rather a tribute from organist Peter Richard Conte. It’s a recording from a sellout 2012 concert sponsored by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ group that cherishes Fox’s contributions to music.

It’s fitting that the concert is on the Wanamaker Organ, which was built for the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904, and has come to rest in Philadelphia, where it is the largest fully-functioning organ in the world. The organ has 28,604 pipes in 463 ranks. The console consists of six manuals with an array of stops and controls that command the organ. The organ’s String Division forms the largest single organ chamber in the world. The instrument features eighty-eight ranks of string pipes.

Fox played many concerts on the Wanamaker, so this concert is indeed a wonderful tribute, with a program of works that Fox performed many times.

TrackList:

GABRIEL FAURE: Nocturne from Shylock
BACH: Toccata in F Major
ROBERT ELMORE: Night Song (dedicated to Virgil Fox)
HENRI MULET: Tu es Petra
SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN: The Lost Chord
ROBERT HEBBLE: Hommage to Fritz Kreisler (Londonderry Air)
JULIUS REUBKE: The 94th Psalm: Sonata for the Organ
BACH/FOX: Come, Sweet Death

The recording is quite good, with the requisite low end. It’s not a sonic spectacular. This is, after all, a labor of love, not a big label recording. No matter, it’s quite a respectable recording and a really nice performance by Conte, who is celebrating his 25th year as Wanamaker Grand Court Organist.  He is only the fourth person to hold that title since the organ first played in 1911. He performs concerts twice daily, six days each week. I wished for a high resolution surround version of this concert, but the CD is satisfying.

Mr. Fox would certainly appreciate the tribute, and the disc is a more than a worthwhile listen.

—Mel Martin