This is another in the series of historic Virgil Fox recordings from the 1970s, issued on both a standard CD and a DVD with Dolby 5.1 surround audio, plus some of the tracks featuring super-kaleidoscopic images along with the music. [Here’s one past review.] This particular release was sourced from a 1976 concert series at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, which featured such well-known organists as Anthony Newman and Richard Purvis. But the big star was Virgil Fox, who the New York Times had called “the ultimate switched-on master of the instrument” (this was just after Walter Carlos’ Switched-On Bach LP had become a major hit).
Fox was known for his inimitable spoken introductions to the various pieces, and these were recorded by engineer Charles Swisher on a separate tape deck so that the single custom three-channel tape deck designed by Reference Recordings’ Keith Johnson could have time to effect reel changes during the short speeches. The super deck (on which audiophile classics such as the 45 rpm Forward Look with Red Norvo had been recorded) preserved the sonics of the fine performances and voluminous acoustics of the cathedral very well. The problem was that the rare tapes developed over the years a sticky binder problem and became unplayable. Many engineers have solved this problem by baking the tapes for a short time and then dubbing to digital media before they deteriorated again. Keith Johnson nixed that approach because he said it reduced the transient response on the tapes. Instead a painstaking process of cleaning with isopropyl alcohol was done to restore the tapes for this album. The three channels provided more ambient information for generating a 5.1 surround field on the DVD as well as a better two-channel mix on the CD.
The program is a typical Fox Bach concert, with some of his introductions generating a rousing applause and shouts from the crowded audience which included young people and hippies, many sitting on pillows on the floor of the cathedral (I was there!). St. Mary’s had a Ruffatti 4-manual pipe organ and a Rodgers touring organ with 5 manuals was installed just for the concert series. The three selections which are accompanied by the Kaleidoplex visual provided by Marshall Yaeger are Sleepers Awake!, Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, and the Toccata in F Major. The already impressive visuals of the earlier DVDs in the series are enhanced even further on these three selections. They would provide fascinating viewing to any art-lover even without the accompaniment of Fox’s fine Bach organ works. The note booklet even lists the sources of the art used in the “digital collages.” The album is promoted as a TTDD – Triple Track, Double Disc – the three tracks being the stereo CD, the stereo DD audio on the DVD and the DD 5.1 audio on the DVD.
– John Sunier