There are those who consider the D.A. Flentrop Organ in
St. Mark's Cathedral to be among the best organs in the world- some go so
far as to say that this organ was Dirk Flentrop's finest. This is a
well-earned reputation that might have become history if the recent
Seattle earthquake had continued but a few more seconds. While the organ
sustained some serious structural damage, pipework miraculously escaped
and the remarkable cathedral which provides the organ's home was
Why play French repertoire on an eclectic and even
"neobaroque" organ? Quite simply, this CD presents Melvin
Butler's recording of French repertoire on the Flentrop! This is an
instrument with the nobility and "heart" to render this music
with complete abandon- played by J. Melvin Butler, cathedral organist and
an extraordinary musician.
Dr. Butler has an unerring sense of the sonic and
rhythmic capability of both organ and room and delivers it flawlessly.
Technically, Loft Recordings has obtained a nearly perfect pickup, neither
too close nor to far from the organ, and the unique sound of the
magnificent instrument is faithfully delivered on CD. This is no small
accomplishment given the relative ease with which digital recordings can
distort the tome of organ pipes in one way or another.
The term "faithful recording" is an obviously
subjective analysis; nevertheless, this review often despairs when he
hears the sound of a familiar organ via a digital reflection that presents
another voice altogether. Dramatic instruments can become harsh and
biting, or fine old romantic organs can sound as if they are speaking
through a blanket. Pure temperaments can cut like a knife, forcing the
listener to head for the volume control. All these problems seem to be a
product of digital techniques that are applied to recordings today.
When a recording comes across with the same dynamic
range as the actual instrument and the sound reminds one of the power and
nobility that is really there, an element of faith is present in the
recordings. You can believe that it tells the truth. This is certainly the
case with "French on the Flentrop."
I do suggest some minor changes in the play list, but
again, they are purely subjective. Butler begins his program with engaging
and familiar Noels, which immediately capture the listener's attention.
One is reminded that this organ can cast a spell upon its audience. Butler
must surely sense this, because he weaves the web with knowing and
skillful deftness. This organ has brought out the best in scores of
performers and with this recordings, Butler joins the list. A minor point:
I would be inclined to order the selection in historical sequence.
This CD was released in a contemporary collection of
Loft Recordings and stands out among them as a real gem.
-Herbert L. Huestis
The Organ Magazine www.theorganmag.com
is a wonderful release from the Seattle based Loft Recordings. It features
the ground-breaking 1965 Flentrop at St Mark’s Cathedral, an organ that
sounds as fresh now as radical it must have sounded then, and one which
almost unlike any other organ from that period has steadfastly refused to
become dated in its tonal outlook. It received a substantial makeover from
the brilliant Paul Fritts in 1991, which included a new suspended action
and extremely telling 32 Bazuin.
organist Melvin Butler – a former student of Oberlin Conservatory and
Eastman School of Music where his teacher was David Craighead – throws
the Flentrop’s 58 stops around to great effect in a programme of French
music ranging from de Grigny and Clerambault, through the Noëls of Daquin
and Balbastre to Tournemire and Messiaen – a complete performance of La
Nativité. His programme affords him the opportunity to show off all
the organ’s solo colours (this organ is immensely colourful) as well as
his own excellent technique – he reputedly beat over 100 other
applicants to the job when he took over in 1992.
only minor problems with this CD are with Mr Butler’s playing however,
which is just a little too rigid, particularly in the early music and
Messiaen, Alléluias sereins in particular suffering from an almost complete lack of incense, which
the organ – though never sounding hugely French – and the acoustic
undoubtedly allow him. So much of his chosen repertoire requires the
expansiveness of a good French cheese, unfortunately I occasionally get
the impression that the Brie has been in the fridge rather too long! His
Tournemire – the Petite rapsodie
improvisée and the Choral‑Improvisation
sur le Victimae Paschali – on the other hand are spot on,
fantastically dramatic but equally atmospheric when required.
so exciting to receive a recording of a marvellous organ, in a fantastic
acoustic, played by a man who knows its every quirk, and recorded by a man
who also knows it rather intimately, Loft Recordings’ owner is Roger
Sherman, the Cathedral’s assistant organist. He has captured it to
perfection, the organ just jumps out of the speakers from the very start
featuring the horizontal trumpets in Balbastre’s Noel, Au
jô deu de poubelle. Organ recordings seldom get more exciting than
this – don’t miss it!
One of the finest pipe organs in the region, the huge
Flentrop organ at St. Mark's Cathedral is put through its paces by one who
knows it well - Cathedral organist J. Melvin Butler, who dazzles here in
an all-French recording that extends over four centuries. Suiting the
season is the sparkling "Suite de Noels"of Balbastre; the
Messiaen "l'Ascension" is beautifully done. - Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Post - Intelligencer
There was no doubt about Butler's capabilities. His
perfomances....gave ample evidence not only of his technical ability but
his creative use of registrations.