Here is a prime example of a "little guy" showing the so-called giants of the industry how to do it. Working with modest-but optimized-recording gear and infinite attention to the niceties of microphone placement, Dave Wilson has captured an amazingly good likeness of a baroque-style tracker Flentrop organ. The instrument itself, I think, is one of the reasons why this recording works so well. I do not buy organ records with any great regularity, because they so seldom sound as real organs do. Organ recordings as a category expose all the shortcomings of the phonograph record as a music storage medium. Most organs, I would say, are unrecordable, so the key to making an organ recording which might work is to find a recordable organ.
The Flentrop at All Saint's Church in Palo Alto, California, is, from this evidence, recordable. Its sounds, and the acoustic in which they are placed, are modest enough in scope and free enough of geographical awkwardness to allow a successful recording to be made. The interest it holds lies in the variety and complexity of the medium-to-small sounds it makes, and in antiphonal front·to-back layering effects. All that should be needed with such an organ in such a space is a good pair of microphones and some com- mon sense, which is exactly what has been provided.
An English horn has also been provided for a Partita by Jan Koetsier (b. 1911), a real find of a piece. I do wonder at the wisdom of placing the English horn so close to the left microphone-it would make a better musical effect closer to the center and a bit farther away. The same goes for the set of pipes in the "front and center" chest: Why so close? They're in our very face. But these are personal preferences, not shared by most people who have grown up with close-miked recordings.
Musically, I am happy to report, this record is well out of the category of "Good recording, but so what?". James Welch is a young, bright-eyed and energetic per- former, one whose likes are too seldom found on organ benches. His program holds interest better than most grab-bag collections by including tasty items like the above-mentioned duet partita and a sprightly, chirpy group of pieces by Ernst Pepping, along with the more usual Bach clutch. All this music sounds well on the Flentrop. One does not once lust for a bigger, grander instrument.
Processing of the finished tape was done with great care. Mastering was at half speed by Stan Ricker, and pressings, which are quite surprisingly good, are by KM Records of Burbank, California.
Welch and Wilson have collaborated on one previous album, called Concert, made partially on this same organ and partially on the Holtkamp/Moller organ at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. The latter organ was miked more distantly, and has enough weight in the pedal registers to satisfy any bass-hungry sub- woofer. Concert is available at the same price from the same address.
Wilson is reported to have been seen stringing microphones in the cavernous reaches of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. We wish him well. If there was ever an organ that can't be recorded, that has to be it.
After having written this review, I went out of curiosity to hear a performance by another organist on the Flentrop. I was amazed to find that the church itself is not nearly so large as it sounds on the recording, and, more importantly, that all the pipes are contained in one moderate-sized chest. The "front and center" rank refer· red to above is directly over the organist's head but in the same plane as the other pipes.
So what we have on the recording is a somewhat idealized sonic picture, a bit more glamorous in acoustic and certainly more interesting in dimensionality than the real thing. This is by no means a put- down. Regarding recording procedures, I have become a reformed purist: it has never been possible, it is not possible now, and it is unlikely to be possible in the future for the essence of live music to be recorded and reproduced in the home. Let us then deal with the disc medium as another kind of reality, one which is capable of some rather bewitching illusions.