Thursday, March 15, 2012

The ten worst sounding organ recordings of all time

Finally I came around to publish my personal and subjective list of the ten worst organ recordings of all time, you´re gonna find the first article listing the ten best recordings here. Just like the list with the ten worst sounding classical recordings this one here concentrates on ugly sounding recordings that might get you confused like me above. Many of the organs mentioned here are so horribly recorded, it´s a shame. The virtual stage might be too compact, the organ might not sound the way it does in real life (which is admittedly hard to achieve in any case) or the frequency balance is off. But here it goes...

The 24 Pièces de Fantaisie by Louis Vierne are beautiful, imaginative, creative, they are a work of art. A shame that they have been recorded so horrible here. The sound of this recording from MDG puts the artistry of both the composer and the interpreter to shame, the organ sounds nothing like on well done recordings: thin and brittle (!) with the virtual stage beeing too compact, the usually voluptous sound of this mighty organ isn´t apparent here. These two CDs are sounding "German" in the most horrible way with the result that this organ seems to be tiny and limp. And it shouldn´t sound that way because it´s housed inside an impressively sized cathedral. So disappointing.

Again a wonderful interpretation by Ben van Oosten recorded in surprisingly low sound quality. Here we have three organs used for interpretating the six famous organ symphonies by Louis Vierne and while it´s nice to listen to these very characteristic organs all three of them do not sound the way I´m used too. The stage is almost monaural, the recordings are noisy and pipes seem to be re-arranged. Especially disappointing is the recording of the organ in St. Sernin de Toulouse: if you know how it usually sounds you might recognize it with a lot of wishful thinking; again it seems too tiny, too thin and too far away, the thundering and warm bass isn´t there. The recorded sound of the organ in Rouen is a bit better than the one above but instead of being too thin we are treated to a tiring loudness-y sound characteristic here, the usually balanced and reverb laden characterstic cannot be experienced with this recording. Another thing: all recordings are surprisingly noisy which normally isn´t very disturbing to me - it´s just that I´ve never heard one recording of the organ in Rouen that was THAT noisy. Very disappointing - again. *sigh*

A very early recording by Telarc before they rose to fame and also before they had started recording digitally. This is a Direct-to-Disc recording, done in 1977 with engineering by Jack Renner and playing by Michael Murray. The sound quality isn´t so bad at all but I assume that the microphone placement was done wrong. The organ itself sounds restricted to the center channel mostly, few pipes extend to the left and right side of the stereo field. Then there´s a huge amount of reverb here, reverb that completely drowns every attempt of the organ to create a believable stage. Surprising when one considers that the room the organ stands in isn´t that huge. Well, later recordings by that particular team would be better anyway.

This is one of these recordings audiophiles love so much. But why? It sounds horrible: piercing treble, dynamics seems forced the same way the virtual stage sounds strange. It´s a recording that serves as a great example of how music was recorded in the best possible way back in the '50s: it may have sounded great then but today it sounds like shit. The playing... oh, well. Virgil Fox always was a poor-man's organist because he judged effect, bombast and glittery stage antiques to be more important than emotions transported via sensitive playing, effectively distorting the works he interpretated. Not recommended.

This recording would sound fabulous - if it wouldn´t sound that warm! Staging is impeccable, the cathedral is preserved well. But the organ sounds fat, the usually shrieking quality of its pipes is not present here. If one would know the organ in Notre-Dame de Paris only from this recording he/she would get a distorted view of its qualities only. This Deutsche Grammophon release sounds slightly better on the SACD layer but still not good enough. The company might know this because this recording isn´t available anymore.

This is a recording released by the small record label Prospect - sadly it also sounds that way: small and unimpressive with monaural, constricted stage impression that´s messed up because Pipes seem to change their position during a piece. I cannot say anything about the intepretation since these are the only recordings I know of the works by Theodore Dubois.

Formerly two seperately released CDs, this SACD sounds gorgeous with the selections from the second CD (except for an ennerving sine on high frequencies). However, the contents of the first CD are what´s bothering me. Yes, the famous Telarc sound is present here with delicate bloom, uncompressed dynamics and lovely euphonic colour... but the staging is off. The organ seems to be recorded with one microphone only with the effect that the orchestra surrounds the listener while the organ plays in the center only. Because the Organ Symphony by Saint-Saens was recorded in a church the reverb also sounds strange and hissy. Playing of all involved however is impeccable.

Ugh, again the organ at Methuen Memorial Music Hall. For the second time it sounds strange; this time the huge amount of reverb has shifted to the other extreme of being too dry. The placement of pipes inside the virtual stage is strange too because the organ seems to have been recorded from the side! The balance is off too this time: instead of sounding bass heavy it now sounds thin and brittle. Actually, the last characteristic might have been intentional for we are witnessing recordings by Johan Sebastian Bach - and they are usually German to the core. In any case, Telarc wasn´t very lucky with this organ...

One word: boring. I didn´t even know before I purchased this recording that an organ could sound that sleep inducing. I´m falling for a logical fallacy now by declaring that I never ever will be purchasing another recording from Naxos again judging by the horrible sound of this one.

Yes, I know, the cover is ugly! Sorry for that but I cannot do something about it. The sound quality is surprisingly good on this recording - when it represents the Cavaille-Coll organ in St. Sernin. This mighty organ sounds the way it usually sounds: impressive and with a very healthy amount of bass. Staging is a bit too compact but otherwise impeccable, dynamics are well preserved. Sadly, the organ changes from piece to piece. Loud and dynamic pieces of a certain work are represented by the organ in St. Sernin while smaller and supposedly lovely parts are represented by the organ in Lyon. Combining two organs for one work creates the effect of a recording with two faces - one minute you have fantastic sound, the next a noisy, small staged mess. I assume that organist Louis Robilliard did this to support the interpretational quality of these work, on me however it has the opposite effect of being unable to grasp what the composer was trying to convey. Released by dutch label festivo.

Phew, now that this is done I´m perfect again!

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