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Reviews: The Widor Mass - Daniel Roth

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Reviews: 1

Review by Oakland February 27, 2006 (10 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
If there ever was a recorded performance committed to disc that embodies the phrase “the power and the glory”, the “Widor Mass”, Op. 36 on JAV Recordings has got to be that disc. This SACD is more than just a top notch recording it is a powerful and glorious “event”.

As powerful works such as Mahler’s 6th Symphony, Vaugh Williams’ “Sea Symphony, Orff’s “Carmina Burana, you name it, they don’t come close to the power emanated in the “Widor Mass”, a composition that features the organ, two organs, in fact. No surprise here. Anyone who has heard live a full-size, full tone, organ at speed, but even at considerably less than full bore, knows that a full sized symphony orchestra can’t match the physical (and emotional) impact of which the organ is capable. But its more than that because I have many well done, wide bandwidth recordings of organ, on CD and SACD, but they don’t match the sheer power, and much more importantly, the stark realism, that is captured on this JAV Recordings SACD.

JAV Recordings ( specializes in organ recordings, so frankly I was expecting a killer organ recording and would not have been happy with anything less. But what I was not expecting is that this is so much more than an organ disc. The real magic here is the bringing together of a choir, two choirs, in fact, with the mighty organs and doing so with exultant symmetry that I had not experienced on disc (or live). In this recording if the organs emanate the power the choirs emanate the glory.

I do have other recordings that feature both organ and chorus, including the fabulous SACD recording, “The Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble” on Opus 3. But in the recordings I own when the organ kicks in the choir pipes down (pun intended) and vice versa. There is almost no overlap between the two. And it is no wonder why. It must take a special engineering choreography to pull this off on disc, especially at fortissimo. And JAV Recordings does this in a most triumphant way. Because while the organ is as powerful and *real* sounding as any I have heard on disc, it never, overpowers or masks the choirs, they themselves are heard at the same time as both sonorous and delicate, yet projected in a soundstage that is deep, broad, and with sunlit clarity that is unsurpassed in my experience.

This disc is replete with tracks of demonstration quality. Certainly after listening to tracks 3 and 4, the Kyrie, and Gloria from the Mass you just gotta exhale and say aloud “holy moly”. No pun intended. But other compositions on this disc such as the music by Philippe Bellenot and all the “improvisations” are no less masterfully performed and masterfully recorded.

And this brings me to a curiosity about this disc, perhaps unique to the genre, that I didn’t understand. For example, while the disc features “The Widor Mass”, Op. 36, there are other compositions buy other composers (in addition to the improvisations), such as Bellenot that are interspersed throughout the Mass. So, those tracks that are clearly part of the Mass composition are not performed consecutively, or so it seemed. And while to be sure it all fit together seamlessly I was curious about the presentation of the program. The responsive people at JAV Recordings explained that the presentation meticulously follows the order it would have been in a Pre Vatican II Mass, a Trinitine Mass. I may have missed this in the comprehensive 40 page booklet that accompanies the disc.

What about the sound? You may have gathered that I hold this disc to be a no holds bar tour de force. I easily rate it 5 stars in *both* two-channel and multi-channel. But an event that features two organs, one in the rear, two choruses, and the spatial characteristics of the grand St. Sulpice church in Paris (that I have visited), this clearly is a recording best served by multi-channel. In addition to the inherent sound related advantages of multi-channel the numbers too are a decided advantage; 5 or 6 speakers are better than two when handling the tremendous workload demanded by this disc.

As wonderful as this recording is I suspect that it is not a DSD recording. Without attempting to articulate why, the recording sounds like PCM of very high quality. This seems apparent when listening to the Sonoma Records “Music for Organ, Brass, and Timpani”, one of my very favorite recordings, organ or otherwise (especially the Bach). The two recordings simply sound different, although I prefer the *sound* of the Sonoma Records. But the bottom line is it doesn’t really matter. PCM or DSD the sound of this JAV Recordings disc is top tier.

Caveats? For some reason the first time I heard the disc it didn’t grab me. I have no idea why. I suspect I didn’t have the volume control turned up enough and that may have bottled up the power and emotion of the performance and the sound. But certainly by the end of the second playing I was moved. I have since listened to this disc at least a half a dozen times.

I have ordered two additional recording from JAV that feature the organ (of course) but I don’t know what other surprises they may have in store. Otherwise, as pedestrian as it may be I would like to have a multi-channel discs from JAV Recordings that include a definitive Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, along with disc’s of the warhorses Saint Saens 3rd Symphony and Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ.

Robert C. Lang

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