Review by Oakland July 11, 2006 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|First, one must not be deterred by the fervently Biblical theme that is clearly inherent in the title “Stations of the Cross”. Make no mistake about it, this music chronicles a deeply sacred advent in Christianity with a sculptured depiction of the hours from the time that Christ was condemned to die, the struggle as he ascends Calvary, to his crucifixion and death on the cross. But to dismiss or underrate this contribution to the repertoire because of its ecclesiastical roots or deep religious expression would be every bit deficient as casting aside the great Christian doctrinal compositions of Bach, Verdi, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and numerous other composers.
JAV Recordings (www.pipeorgancds.com) specializes in organ recordings, and this performance, recorded at the grand Saint Sulpice, Paris, France (that I have visited), must be one of its crown jewel productions. As a music form “Stations of the Cross” may not be as all embracing or multiform as JAV Recordings, Widor, “Mass Op. 36” (see my comments at: The Widor Mass - Daniel Roth), where Widor brilliantly choreographs two choruses with two organs. Likewise, it may not have the sheer enormity of the Widor composition. It is, nevertheless, immense, and perhaps because there is no chorus or lesser instruments to defer to, the organ in “Stations of the Cross” is, at times, completely unfettered, and this freedom, coupled with the story being told, helps to make this composition so uniquely special and so powerful.
As music composed to portray a sacred passage of Christianity this may or may not have been intended to be a “sonic blockbuster”. OK, it abounds with virtuoso passages and enormous fortissimos that fit the “sonic blockbuster” boilerplate and no doubt that is a draw. But it is far more substantial than that platitude most often connotes. For sure, “Stations of the Cross” is a tour de force in recorded music, but not alone for the absolute power and weight for which the organ is capable. That is to be expected, especially from JAV Recordings, but equally so for the compelling reenactment of the story being told.
The seemingly infinite palette of textures reproduced by the organ is as expansive as I have heard from the instrument; all needed to graphically and starkly and mournfully, depict scenes and wide-ranging emotions as portrayed in the 14 Stations of the Cross. And it’s the boundless use of these textures that separates this composition from merely being “organ music”.
Stations (movements?) 1 and 2 portray Jesus being condemned death. The organ is ominous, but deliberately restrained, as to foreshadow what lay ahead. In Stations 3, 7, and 9 the power of the instrument, when Christ struggles to ascend Calvary and most descriptively the three times he falls with the cross, or Station 11 “Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross”, is almost completely unmitigated. I say “almost” because it is at Station 12, “Jesus Dies on the Cross”, (when the sword is thrust into Christ’s side?) that the organ comes down with a fury that is unbridled and omnipotent. It was here I honestly thought I was in the midst of a small (3.4?) earthquake. (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and know all too well of what I speak). But I must emphasize, I’m not talking pyrotechnics or cheap thrills here. While loud in some passages, the music never reaches blatantly high decibel levels (your mileage may vary). But make no mistake; it is deep, it is powerful, it is spectacular.
And if the power passages incite a monumental stir to the soul (and the room), the softer passages, too, are compelling, some to the inmost corium. They are melodiously blended and reenact their respective Stations with an absorbing passion that is plaintive and bittersweet. Station 8, “Jesus Comforts the Woman of Jerusalem”, is particularly cogent, as is Station 14, “Jesus is laid in the Tomb”. I have never heard the organ sound so nurturing, so caring. And the organ’s chuff that had been so menacing at previous Stations is compassionately gentle. But, except for Station 14, even in the softer more gentle Stations the higher registers of the instrument, while given prominence, are juxtaposed with the lower registers that omen the unrestricted power of the organ to be unleashed when least expected.
I have enjoyed this disc immensely; always singularly engaged whenever I listen to it. And even though the dynamics are wide-ranging and, at times, the organ in the lowest octaves pushes the outermost edge of musicality, “Stations of the Cross”, is never discordant and is always inventive. And it is never lost that this is music with an apostolic mission.
The sound, too, is top tier and I easily give it my highest recommendations for both two-channel and multi-channel. But this clearly is a recording best served by multi-channel. In addition to the inherent higher resolution of this multi-channel recording the numbers too are a decided advantage; 5 or 6 speakers are better able to control the formidable workload presented by this disc.
Robert C. Lang
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