The Fifth Element #39 Page 3

My Favorite Things: Recordings, etc.
If you have any interest at all in pipe organs, read Craig Whitney's All the Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters, which I discussed at length in my October column. Such a great book!

One of the best organ recordings I've heard in a while is Olivier Latry's César Franck program, In Spiritum, played in Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. The liner notes list the organ builders at Notre Dame as going back to 1402—90 years before Columbus set sail. That's history!

Here in the US, we tend to put a premium on the new. The Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, in Dallas's Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, is still relatively new, and, in the kind of time frame used to measure the lives of organs, its Lay Family Concert Organ, a mechanical-action instrument built by C.B. Fisk, is still really just getting broken in. Hyperion Records in the UK has had for some years an ongoing series, Organ Fireworks, based on the idea of sending a single organist, Christopher Herrick, all over the world and recording him performing on different organs. Organ Fireworks Vol.XI, hot off the press, was recorded in Dallas on the Lay Family organ, and I hasten to point out that the numerous shekels that funded this instrument's construction were honestly earned by selling potato chips and such—they were not filched from Enron's shareholders, employees, and retirees.

Organ Fireworks Vol.XI 's organizing theme is "Americana": a potpourri of pastiches of patriotic tunes, marches, and works influenced by jazz and blues. Nevertheless, certain works that don't quite fit that mold obviously were included because they sound glorious on this organ, such as the "Organ Solo" from Janácek's magnificent but rarely heard Glagolitic Mass. This disc is well worth checking out—a really big-sounding organ in a really big-sounding hall. As you might surmise from its title, the Organ Fireworks series features showpieces of virtuosity, bombast, or both. A companion series (four discs so far), Organ Dreams, features more reposeful repertoire.

According to its builders, the Dallas organ took 45,000 person-hours to design, build, and install. Its successful completion was a major factor in winning for C.B. Fisk the contract to install a massive, 35-ton organ (including not one but three 32' stops) in Switzerland's Lausanne Cathedral—the first US-built organ in any European cathedral.

I think that my endorsement of Verve's The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions has brought in the largest number of delighted responses of any recommendation I've made. It's really something. Miss it at your peril.

One should not be without at least one of the two recordings (so far) of Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna. The Los Angeles forces' effort under Paul Salamunovich is probably the better introduction, but owners of SACD players will want the version directed by Stephen Layton. By the way, Vaughan Williams' truly elegiac An Oxford Elegy is an inspired companion piece, though you'll have to buy it separately. Listen to the Elegy, then to Lux Aeterna, and have yourself a really good wallow. For wallow you will and must.

The polar opposite in affect comes from Stéphane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin's recordings of violin duo with jazz rhythm section. If An Oxford Elegy and Lux Aeterna are ruby port music, Grappelli and Menuhin's swinging collaborations are martini music. Sometimes, that's just what the doctor ordered.

There's no shortage of Grappelli-Menuhin original jazz recordings, remasterings, and compilations, on LP and CD, from the mid-1970s on. The recently released two-CD set I recommend in the "Sources" sidebar collects 41 tracks at a budget price. Highly recommended for the musicianship, but sonically these studio recordings are nothing to write home about—they're not exactly terrible, but what a missed opportunity. The violinists are hard left and hard right, and the other players are in a largely dead acoustic. But don't let that stop you—this is great stuff, played by guys who lived and played during the time this music was coming hot off the presses.

Back when I was living in Nashville, I heard Grappelli on two occasions, fronting bands most of whose members were far less than half his age. The second time, I was in the company of a few classical string players I had bludgeoned into attending, and they were stupefied at the purity of his technique, both going up the fingerboard and the showers of harmonics he could summon at whim. Both times, he happened to exit by walking right past our table, and both times he was kind enough to shake hands with me. To have shaken hands with someone who played with Django Reinhardt. Priceless memories.

If you don't have Clifford Brown's Clifford Brown and Strings, you are really missing out. Even if you don't usually listen to jazz. Really.

My request to my readers: This season, at least once, when you see a Salvation Army collection pot, drop a $20 bill into it. You'll be amazed at the sound it makes. Or donate $20 online.