The other day I posted this on Facebook:
In 2003 I started to build my organ music collection. At that time I had roughly 6 discs of organ music. Today, I splurged and purchased my 400th disc of organ music! Now I just have to wait for it to come… from France…
One of my friends responded with a couple of really good questions. And with his permission I will tackle them here.
If you were stranded on a desert island and had a solar-powered CD player… but could only have one CD. Which would it be?
And, a similar question… but not necessarily the same… which of your CDs is your favorite?
Now, he didn’t specify that if it would have to be an organ CD–after all, my music collection also contains a fair number of soundtracks and classical music albums and a few odds and ends. There’s also a number of albums in my collection that contain more than one disc in them. Amanda got me a box set of the complete works of Josef Rheinberger that contains 12 discs. Then there’s one of the “crown jewels” of my collection, a 19 disc set of the works of J.S. Bach recorded on Silberman organs, on the Aeolus label…
But for the sake of this organ blog, I’m going to assume that my friend meant I had to choose organ music. However, I am going to allow the possibility to cheat slightly in that I will allow a CD set, as long as there are no more than 3 discs in it.
So! If I was stranded on a desert island and could only have one organ album (3 discs or less), which would it be?
I hate the question, because there are so many good recordings of really good organ music out there. I only own a minute fraction of the many albums available. But if I had to be stuck with one album for my forseeable future I think I would want an album that shows a variety of the organ music that has been written out there.
Those of you who know me and read this blog, know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE the French Romantic School of organ music as personified by organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and composers such as Charles-Marie Widor, César Franck and Louis Vierne, among many others. Much of that love has to do with the French Romantic Organ itself. I love the sound they produce. Those organs are capable of a wide variety of colors and dynamics, from soft string-like stops all the way to the majestic tutti of full organ! In those terms, which Cavaillé-Coll is my favorite?
It’s really a toss-up between the large grand instrument at St. Sulpice, Paris, and the stunning organ at St. Ouen, Rouen. The former is a great synthesis of the French Classical style with elements of Cavaillé-Coll’s romantic aesthetics, the result of which is a great instrument from which a wide range of the repertoire can be easily rendered. Some of my best recordings of the St. Sulpice organ, are ones that have a wide varied program featuring music from a wide range of regions and time. The latter, St. Ouen, I have many recordings of. This instrument is the pinnacle of Cavaillé-Coll’s symphonic ideal. That, combined with the rich acoustics of the large gothic building, make for one of the marriages of instrument/building that I’ve ever encountered on disc.
With the St. Sulpice organ I could easily narrow the choices down to a few, preferably an album that contains a varied repertoire. One of the most ideal for that is a recording by Sophie-Véronique Choplin. It contains works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Jeanne Demessieux, and an improvisation by Choplin. The album is varied enough to be satisfying as mush the music isn’t exclusive to France. It also shows off the capabilities of the instrument quite well…
If I went the St. Ouen route there are a number of excellent recordings to choose from. But perhaps the best for the stranded island deal would be a recording of organist Daniel Roth (incidentally, he is titular organist of St. Sulpice), recorded by one of the best recording engineers out there, Christoph Frommen (owner of the Aeolus recording label). Though the disc features all French music, it’s such an amazing recording of that instrument and space that it would probably surpass any other album I could come up with. (Again, keep in mind, this is one of the most recorded instruments in my CD collection.)
The best part of all this is the albums I’ve singled out today may not be the same albums I would single out tomorrow!
I hope I never have to choose.
Hopefully I’ll get stranded with my iPod and I wouldn’t have to choose! 😉
As to the other question: Which CD is my favorite?
I seriously cannot choose. I just can’t. I have so many treasures among my collection that it is so very hard to choose any one single album to hold out above any other. I know that really doesn’t answer the question, but it’s true. There’s also the added complication of what I’m in the mood for. What was my favorite album this month may not be a few months from now. What I may have thought my favorite a few years ago will not be a few years from now…
In the meantime I just enjoy the 399 discs that I own! (Still waiting for #400 to ship from France!)