Reviews & Reactions: Published Press
Vibrant and Organic: Kansas City Symphony Performs Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 and Premieres Rogerson’s “The Little Prince”
concert review by Libby Hanssen in KC Studio Magazine, June 8, 2022 (click link for full text; highlights reproduced below)
In a concert of fantasy and excitement, the Kansas City Symphony gave a fresh, lively performance, including a commanding world premiere with a rising violin star.
Guest conductor Gemma New led the ensemble with clarity and passion throughout Saturday’s performance in Helzberg Hall.
Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” was an exquisite jewel of shimmering color and character and, though it’s a challenging piece, had a clean, easy feeling to it. The orchestra gave this performance sprightly energy, delicate and responsive to New’s full gestures. ...
Fantasy, too, shaped Chris Rogerson’s first violin concerto, commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony. (KCS premiered Rogerson’s “A Single Candle” in 2014 and “Of Simple Grace” in 2018 with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.) ...
Based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s exquisite novella, “The Little Prince,” the concerto was written for his friend Benjamin Beilman, fresh talent new to Kansas City audiences and a performer to remember.
For Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony no. 3, nicknamed “Organ” for its organic and impressive use of the instrument, the orchestra was joined by Kansas City’s own Grammy Award-nominated Jan Kraybill. An always impressive work, the orchestra and soloist recorded it in 2013.
From the questing opening, searching and reflective, to the “aha, found it!” release, the piece was triumph upon triumph. The symphony contains perhaps one of the loveliest melodies to exist in classical music, its lightness given such an uplifting, floating quality it brought to mind a vast skyfield, clouds in sunlight as far as the eye could see.
It was exhilarating, too: New brought the orchestra right up close to the edge of overwhelming, without losing control.
Kraybill is easily one of Kansas City’s–and the organ world’s–treasures. At times the use of organ was so subtle that it felt subconscious rather than heard, and then other times the effect is reversed: the crash of the chord so completely consuming that little else filtered through to comprehend.
It’s heartening to hear a performance like this: new material performed with the same confidence of familiar works, standard repertoire performed with thrilling enthusiasm, the concert experience renewed and vibrant.
“An energetic player, she obviously understands the original and has a fine ear for color.”
— American Record Guide
Orchestral Organ (CD review) in American Record Guide, September/October 2019 issue
A program of mostly unfamiliar transcriptions, save for the Barber, Sibelius, and Mendelssohn. The art of transcription for the organ has a long history, beginning with Bach's Vivaldi transcriptions, through the Wagner transcriptions by Edwin Lemare in the early 20th Century, to today's practitioners, who don't hesitate to transcribe anything. All of these work very well for the organ and I found them effective and satisfying.
I was not familiar with Edvard Armas Jarnefelt, a Finnish-born Swedish composer, who studied with Busoni and Massenet. HIs 1900 orchestral miniature, Prelude, is delightful in the transcription by the American organist and composer Gordon Bach Nevin.
Jan Kraybill is organist at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City and organist at the international headquarters of the Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri. An energetic player, she obviously understands the originals and has a fine ear for color. She plays on the 2011, 4-manual, 102-rank French style Casavant in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center. Excellent notes by the performer on the music, composers, and the art of transcription.
During the 1800s, significant advances in organ design enabled organists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to produce transcriptions of orchestral pieces that could legitimately claim to rival their counterparts in tone colour and detail. To be sure, the transcription wasn't conceived as a replacement for the original but rather as a means by which to experience it differently and hear it with fresh ears. On 'The Orchestral Organ,' Dr. Jan Kraybill performs organ transcriptions of material by Sibelius, Holst, Wagner, Verdi, Barber, and others, and while many of the works are familiar, they assume vivid new life when presented in this organ-only context.
It's not just any organ, either: on the seventy-four-minute release, Kraybill, Organ Conservator at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, and Organist-in-Residence at the international headquarters of Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri, performs the eleven pieces using the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the Kauffman Center's Helzberg Hall. The parts for the pipe organ were produced at the Casavant Frères workshop in Quebec and then transported to Kansas City, where four months of installation and testing were required before the organ, which boasts four keyboards for hands and one for feet, seventy-nine stops, and 102 ranks (of its 5,548 pipes, the biggest is thirty-two feet tall, the smallest the size of a pencil), could be deemed ready. The multiple keyboards, of course, allow the organist to generate a huge range of textures, including contrapuntal and homophonic.
Adding to the release's appeal, the pieces by Tchaikovsky, Holst, and Wagner are premiere recordings of the organ transcriptions, and Emil von Reznícek's is a world premiere. Representative of the album are the treatments of Barber's Adagio for Strings and Sibelius's Finlandia; being so well-known, they offer case studies for how effectively the transcriptions enable the listener to experience familiar material in a new way. In its 1949-published transcription, Barber's best-known piece retains all of the ceremonial grandeur and pathos for which it's become famous, and the power the Helzberg Hall organ's capable of generating is effectively shown in the declamatory chords that appear after the methodically winding ascent that climaxes two-thirds of the way in. Of course, with the piece known for its strings scoring rather than full orchestra (more precisely, it first appeared as the second movement in Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11, after which Toscanini conducted the string orchestra version during a 1938 radio broadcast), Barber's setting allows perhaps for a more seamless translation than others on the release. The 1907 transcription of Sibelius's 1900 tone poem retains the drama and robustness of the original, and the stately, hymn-like closing section exudes all the poignancy of a strong orchestral performance.
Tchaikovsky's Coronation March, which grew out of a commission to write a grand ceremonial march and a cantata to grace the coronation of Tsar Alexandr III (1845-1894), is as declamatory and spirited as one would expect, the organ, with its ample resources of colour and contrast, again proving itself an ideal vehicle for the music's expression. A march of a slightly different kind is heard in the 1884 transcription of Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette, a macabre yet lighthearted romp the Faust composer wrote in 1872 and which later became famously known as the musical material used in Alfred Hitchcock's television show. One final march concludes the recording, an 1885 transcription of Verdi's “Grand March” from Aïda, which premiered fourteen years earlier. The piece, which appears in Act II when the Egyptian warrior Rhadames returns to Thebes after his victory over the Ethiopians, is suitably triumphant in tone, the organ in this instance evoking the sound of trumpets and the magnificent spectacle of chariots, banners, and elephants.
In being based on medieval English carols, Holst's “Chaconne” from his three-movement Suite No.1 in E-flat Major, for Military Band (1909) lends itself superbly to an organ treatment, the transcription of the work's opening part in this case published in 1933 and recorded for the first time by Kraybill. Much the same could be said of the 1911 rendering of Wagner's “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried, which shows the organ's capacity for tone painting and its ability to evoke the sounds of birds chirping and a rustling forest. Also included on the release are performances of a 1922-published treatment of Saint-Saëns' stirring “Romance” from his Orchestral Suite in D, Op.49 and an 1885 transcription of Mendelssohn's sprightly “Scherzo” from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Among the lesser-known works is Reznícek'sPraeludium and Chromatic Fugue, at almost fourteen minutes the longest piece. Originally written for large orchestra, Reznícek himself created the organ transcription for this adventurous, ever-winding travelogue in 1920 and published it a year later (it's, in fact, the only transcription on the recording done by the composer himself). Rounding out the presentation is the effervescent Praeludium, written by Finnish-born Swedish composer Edvard Armas Järnefelt in 1900 and transcribed for organ nineteen years later. Regardless of whether the material is familiar or not, Kraybill faithfully adheres to the works' transcriptions, her primary focus on honouring the material as written and staying true in her performances to the character and dynamics of the original creations.
“Organist Jan Kraybill is a local treasure whose previous recordings on the audiophile Reference Recordings label have garnered acclaim from critics around the world. Kraybill has just released a new CD, and it will add to her renown. 'The Orchestral Organ' is a stunner. ... “The Orchestral Organ” will knock the socks off any music lover, even those who claim they don’t like organ music.”
From Jan Kraybill at Helzberg Hall to an André Previn box set, listen to these albums
Patrick Neas, CD review in The Kansas City Star (see article at the link; relevant text also reproduced below)
Here’s a look at some new noteworthy albums, including two by local artists.
JAN KRAYBILL AT HELZBERG HALL
Organist Jan Kraybill is a local treasure whose previous recordings on the audiophile Reference Recordings label have garnered acclaim from critics around the world. Kraybill has just released a new CD, and it will add to her renown.
'The Orchestral Organ' is a stunner. Imagine some of classical music’s most powerful orchestral works performed on Helzberg Hall’s Casavant organ. If you think that sounds good on paper, wait until you actually hear the recording. Kraybill, who is also the conservator of the Casavant organ, is a one-woman orchestra whose renditions of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Sibelius will leave you slack-jawed.
Among the pieces were a couple of works new to me. Emil von Reznicek’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor is a showpiece by the composer of the popular “Dona Diana” overture. A prelude by Finnish composer Edvard Armas Jarnefelt is a good-natured jaunt.
Reference Recordings has now made several recordings in Helzberg Hall, so the engineers know how to capture the hall’s spaciousness and pristine acoustics, which are absolutely stunning on the Super Audio iteration. But even on a regular old CD player, 'The Orchestral Organ' will knock the socks off any music lover, even those who claim they don’t like organ music.
(Other recent releases reviewed in this article included The Kansas City Chorale's "Artifacts: The Music of Michael McGlynn," Isabelle Faust and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin's 2-disc set of J.S. Bach Violin Concertos, and Sony Classics' box set "Classic André Previn.")
“Kraybill's performance has a nice balance of verve and control. The overall impression is of joy and pleasure in the music, which flows from her understanding and touch. Her selections allow her to explore various moods and emotions, which is always quite pleasant. ... stellar performances. ... This is a truly exemplary organ recording, one that I will listen to again and again. ... Kraybill has definitely demonstrated virtuosity and soul in her performance, and this RR SACD delivers the goods in an exemplary way. Many thanks to Dr. Kraybill and the team at Reference Recordings for renewing my faith in the possibilities of contemporary organ recordings! ”