One of the organs in the United States that I REALLY want to hear in person someday, maybe even play, would be an organ that is affectionately called “The Duchess.” Built by C.B. Fisk (C.B. Fisk, Opus 126) for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville, North Carolina, this organ is a great example of a great instrument in a great acoustic–something that doesn’t happen too often here in North America. It’s tonal design is decidedly French influenced, particularly by the organs of Cavaillé-Coll. I know, for those who know me, it’s a no wonder I love this instrument. What is a wonder, is why it’s taken me this long to write about this pipe organ!
This organ was the first C.B. Fisk organ that I actively sought out recordings of. I have to admit what attracted me to it, initially, was the beautiful casework. There is something beautiful and majestic about this organ case, with its warm finish, highlighted with gold and red. The organ fits in wonderfully in the space it is in (in more ways than one)! The room has the ideal acoustics, designed by Dana Kirkegaard of Kirkegaard Acoustics, Inc., with beautiful reverb (without being too much) to allow the tones of this organ to melt into quite the ensemble of color.
I was surprised when I saw the stop list for the first time, because I had expected (based on its visual appearance) it to be more of an English influenced instrument. But it is almost thouroughly French–through and through–with the addition of some German-style trumpet stops to make the instrument a little more flexible.
That said, it does have one stop that is very English, in my opinion. That would be the Tuba Mirabilis 8’ on the Positif. This bold, yet smooth sounding high-pressure trumpet is absolutely stunning. Particularly in this acoustic setting. But it has the added bonus of not being a “En chamade” (high powered trumpet that is mounted horizontally on the façade, projecting out into the room). Nope, this bold trumpet is enclosed inside the Positif expressif chamber, allowing the shutters of the chamber to be closed, dampening it’s power.
There are only a few recordings (so far) of the Op. 126, and the first in my collection was Pas De Dieu – Music Sublime & Spirited, performed by organist Janette Fishell for the Loft Recordings label. Here’s the program:
César Franck: Prière, op. 20
Louis Vierne: (from Pièces de fantaisie:)
Carillon de Westminster, op. 54, no. 6
Clair de Lune, op. 53, no. 5
Impromptu, op. 54, no. 2
Frank Ferko: Livre d’orgue-
II. Basse de Trompette
III. Fugue: In Time of War
IV. Tango: For the Feet
V. Chorale: In Time of Peace
Gaston Litaize: Prélude et Danse Fuguée – World premiere recording!
Maurice Duruflé: Prélude, adagio, et choral varié sur le theme “Veni Creator,” op. 4
It’s a stellar performance with some common pieces in the repertoire, as well as a world premiere recording of Ferko’s Livre d’orgue. The previously mentioned Tuba Mirabilis makes quite the opening statement of the Livre d’orgue. My favorite part of that piece of music, however, is the Tango: For the Feet. It’s rare to have a work played in the pedals alone, and the stops chosen sound great in this acoustic setting. The Flûte harmonique makes a great appearance in Vierne’s Clair de Lune.
Litaize’s Prélude et Dance Fuguée was a highlight and is just a fun piece of music. And colorful! This piece showcases quite a range of sounds which give a really good account of just what this organ is capable of, from the opening flute, to the brilliant principals and mixtures of the opening of the fugue, to the thunderous Grand Chorus at the end! Normally music such as this and the Ferko piece are a bit harder for me to enjoy, but here I’ve fallen in love with them.
The CD ends with the Duruflé. The number of times this appears in my CD collection… It’s hard to say which version I like the most. It’s a toss-up between this recording on this organ, and the recording I have by James Higdon at the Wolff and Associes-Ltee. organ at Bales Organ Recital Hall, at the University of Kansas. (Incidentally, there’s another organ I need to write about!)
I HIGHLY recommend this album! HIGHLY!
I also have the complete works of Olivier Maessiaen recorded by Colin Andrews (Janette Fishell’s husband!). Half of those discs were recorded on the Op. 126 Fisk, but I’m going to save those albums for a later post…
I believe I’ve already talked about this album before, but oh well! Another great album to check out is Solemn and Celebratory, recorded on the Raven label by organist Andrew Scanlon. While the album Pas De Dieu has a decidedly French feel, Scanlon’s chosen program is a little more varied with works by Bach, Mendelssohn and John Cook. Here’s the track listing:
John Cook 1918-1984: Fanfare
Jean Langlais 1907-1991: Mors et Resurrectio from Trois Paraphrases Grégoriennes
Jean-Adam Guilain ca. 1680-1739: Suite du second ton
Felix Mendelssohn 1809-1847: Sonata in A Major, Op. 65, No. 3
Maurice Duruflé 1902-1986: Sicilienne from Suite, Op. 5
Herbert Howells 1892-1983: Master Tallis’s Testament from Six Pieces for Organ
Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750: Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542
Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur 1908-2002: In Paradisum
Louis Vierne 1870-1937: Final from Symphonie No. 1
The album opens with John Cook’s Fanfare, a piece that I first became familiar with at the organ dedication of the Lauck organ that was built my sophomore year at Trinity Christian College. My organ instructor, Marilyn Mulder, performed it as the opening piece of the dedication concert and I was turning pages for her! So this piece has always had a special place in my heart since that event.
The pieces by Langlais, Duruflé and Vierne are good representations of the French romantic/modern style of music, which this organ plays excellently. But I really appreciate the Suite do second ton by Jean-Adam Guilain, as this gives the organ a chance to show more of it’s Classical French character.
With all this Frenchness abounding in this organ it was also pleasant to hear the Mendelssohn as well as the Bach. Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, has one of my favorite Bach fugues, and it was interesting how this organ can pull of the music of the old cantor, with it’s strong choruses and the advantage of those German Trommeten!
Anyway, another highly recommended album!
Both albums do really well in showcasing the grand acoustics of the church. So often, in North America, churches have deplorable acoustics when it comes time to the pipe organ. Our love of padded everything and carpets is every organ builder’s worst nightmare–literally. But C.B. Fisk must be proud to have their instrument here in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, because the situation is quite ideal. The instrument has a very warm sound in it’s environment that is quite inviting and splendid (both with soft sounds and full organ)!
Someday, I hope to visit this church, just to hear this instrument.
If you wish to hear some music played on this magnificent instrument go to my blog post HERE. Also, this instrument is special in that it is one of the few instruments, with a website of it’s own! Check it out Opus 126! Oh, and why is this organ affectionately called “The Duchess?” I’ll leave that for you to discover!
Specifications of the C.B. Fisk, Opus 126
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
built in 2005 (Voix humaine on Récit installed 2015)
45 voices, 58 ranks, 3180 pipes
Grand Orgue, Manual I
Montre 16’ (en façade)
Flûte conique 8’
Flûte harmonique 8’
Flûte ouverte 4’
Tierce 1 3/5’
Plein jeu harmonique II-VI
Plein jeu VI
Positif expressif,Manual II
Cor de Nuit 8’
Flûte douce 4’
Nasard 2 2/3’
Tierce 1 3/5’
Plein jeu IV
Tuba Mirabilis 8’
Récit expressif, Manual III
Viole de gambe 8’
Voix céleste 8’
Flûte traversière 8’
Flûte octaviante 4’
Plein jeu IV-V
Voix humaine 8’
Bourdon 32’ (ext.)
Montre 16’ (from G. O.)
Bourdon 16′ (from Récit)
Salicional 8′ (from G. O.)
Flûte conique 8’ (from G. O.)
Contre Bombarde 32’ (ext.)
Bombarde 16’ (from G. O.)
Trompette 8’ (from G. O.)
Trommeten 8’ (from G. O.)
Clairon 4’ (from G. O.)
Couplers and Accessories
Positif expressif to Grand Orgue
Récit expressif to Grand Orgue
Récit expressif to Positif expressif
Grand Orgue to Pédale
Récit expressif to Pédale
Récit expressif to Pédale 4’
Tremulant Grand Orgue and Positif expressif
Balanced Positif expressif and Récit expressif Pedals
Tremulant Récit expressif