Reviews & Reactions: Published Press
“while many of the works are familiar, they assume vivid new life when presented in this organ-only context. ” - CD review "Jan Kraybill: 'The Orchestral Organ,' Reference Recordings" (see article at the link; full text also reproduced below)
CD review of 'The Orchestral Organ,' July 2019
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.” - Patrick Neas (see article at the link; relevant text also reproduced below)
CD Review: "From Jan Kraybill at Helzberg Hall to an André Previn box set, listen to these albums"
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! ” - David W. Robinson (see article at the link; full text also reproduced below)
CD Review: Brief Impressions: Jan Kraybill, The Orchestral Organ
While I don't do music reviews on a regular basis, there are times when a particular album really strikes me, and I have to say something…usually brief, but definite.
This is one of those times.
I just received a new SACD from my friends at Reference Recordings. Jan Mancuso has been my long-time contact there, and she's been faithful over many years now in keeping me in touch with the latest from RR. I have LPs, SACDs, and even their HRx 176.4kHz/24-bit DVD Audio discs and their HDCD™ discs from back when…we have a real library of RR recordings here!
I do really love organ music, but have heard some bad organ recordings. Generally, it's either a question of a performance that leaves me cold, and/or a mediocre recording, and/or a less-than-alluring venue, and/or (more commonly) a selection of music that does nothing for me. There are more ways to go wrong than right with the organ, you see.
I'm delighted to say that Dr. Jan Kraybill's selections, her performance, the instrument and venue (the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the Kauffman Center's Helzberg Hall in Kansas City), and the quality of this SACD evidences none of the above kisses of death. Her biography and notes on this recording will be found at her hyperlinked name above.
And just check out this repertoire!
Tchaikovsky Coronation March* (5:58)
Barber Adagio for Strings (9:55)
Gounod Funeral March of a Marionette (5:22)
Holst Chaconne, from First Suite for Military Band, Op. 28, No. 1* (5:16)
Sibelius Finlandia (8:50)
Řezníček Praeludium and Chromatic Fugue** (13:39)
Saint-Saëns Romance, from Orchestral Suite in D, Op. 49 (6:03)
Wagner Forest Murmurs, from Siegfried* (4:23)
Mendelssohn Scherzo, from A Midsummer Night's Dream (6:23)
Järnefelt Praeludium for small orchestra (3:10)
Verdi Grand March, from Aïda
* First Recording
** World Premiere
This is a wonderful collection of music. I was quite pleased by all of them, but can give a special tip o' my hat to the Barber, the Gounod, the Sibelius, the…what the heck! No point in making this list; I liked them all!
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. The progression of the album shows a sound sense of movement. Well done.
My first audition was in our downstairs multi-channel room, which is well-vaulted, and spacious. From the first strains of RR's recording of Kraybill, both Lila and I were entranced by the music. In fact, given some of my past disappointments with a few organ albums, I was pleased (and relieved!) to be enjoying what I was hearing. The quality the surround sound was really excellent, and it filled our room in a lovely way.
For the record, our surround system features the following: The player is an Oppo 205 4K universal player, outputting to our Linn Kisto Surround Controller, which sends the surround signal to a pair of Linn 5125 six-channel amps wired in bi-amped mode. These send the signal to a pair of Linn Akurate 242 speakers (left/right front), the Akurate 225 center channel speaker, and a pair of Linn 212 speakers for the left right rear. The subwoofer output goes to a Paradigm SUB25 powered sub with 15" driver. We have Furutech handling the power conditioning and distribution via a pair of Daytona 303. Synergistic Research has provided an Atmosphere XL4 for ambience control, a set of MiG 2.0 footers, a Synergistic Research Grounding Block, and a set of HFT enhancement devices. The results are quite spacious and well balanced, with lovely enveloping sound, dialed in by the Atmospere XL4. (For more on my current reference systems, click on my hyperlinked name…my byline…at the top of any of my essays or reviews.)
My first notes from that listening session really do say it.
We are listening to the DSD 5.1 now in our multi-channel room. My first impression is that this is a truly glorious recording, with Jan Kraybill providing stellar performances. I love the repertoire; not a "so what?!" in the entire bunch! The surround recording is done with real feeling and technical virtuosity in the audio arts. The sense of space and realistic decay is quite fine, and draws you into the room to sit and listen. This is a truly exemplary organ recording, one that I will listen to again and again.
I've since listened to this SACD in stereo mode on our upstairs reference system…Playback Designs MPT-8 and MPD-8 for the source, each with a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base, Nelson Pass Xs Preamp and Xs 150 Monoblock Amplifiers, with the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF, Active Grounding, UEF Interconnects, and Atmosphere Infinity in place, all feeding a pair of Evolution Acoustics Micro One Monitors at the current time.
While the stereo version on the SACD doesn't have the same sense of envelopment that the surround version in 5.1 does, the quality of the performance and the emotional connection with the music is still there.
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! If you love organ music the way that I do, and especially if you have a surround system, then you simply must not miss this SACD.
“The organ is big and brawny, the performances are precise and committed, and Reference Recording has done their usual audiophile magic. ... I also especially enjoyed the Sibelius Finlandia, which was stirring and joyful. Of particular note — this release contains many “first recordings”, as well as the world premier of Řezníček’s Praeludium and Chromatic Fugue. Musically and technically this disc is worth a listen, and frequent replays.” - Mel Martin (see article at the link; full text also reproduced below)
CD review: The Orchestral Organ: Jan Kraybill performs arrangements of works by Camille Saint-Saëns, Edward Armas Järnefelt, Emil von Řezníček, Felix Mendelssohn, Giuseppe Verdi, Gustav Holst, Jean Sibelius, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, Samuel Barber
Musical transcriptions are nothing new. Originally written for piano, Ravel transcribed Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition into a popular piece for orchestra, performed far more frequently than the original piano version.
This fine sounding SACD goes the other way, taking orchestral music and turning it into works for Organ. These transcriptions aren’t new. For years, centuries even, popular music has been transcribed, often because there weren’t the resources available for an orchestral performance, but there was always a handy piano or organ.
Organist Jan Kraybill is up to the task of performing these transcriptions. She is a musical leader, performer, educator, organ consultant, and enthusiastic advocate for the power of music to change lives for the better. She is 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.
In these roles she plays and oversees the care of three of the Kansas City metro area’s largest pipe organs: the 113-rank Aeolian-Skinner and 102-rank Casavant organs in Community of Christ’s Auditorium and Temple, and the 102-rank Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant at the Kauffman Center’s Helzberg Hall, where The Orchestral Organ was recorded.
I listened to the 5.1 rendering of these tracks and the sound was thrilling. The organ is big and brawny, the performances are precise and committed, and Reference Recording has done their usual audiophile magic. The lower pipes of the organ are very deep, and will test your system, especially if you have a subwoofer.
Track selection is varied, with classical standards and a more contemporary work like the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. I thought it worked nicely for organ. I also especially enjoyed the Sibelius Finlandia, which was stirring and joyful. Of particular note — this release contains many “first recordings”, as well as the world premier of Řezníček’s Praelusium and Chromatic Fugue.
Musically and technically this disc is worth a listen, and frequent replays.