February 2008

Crown Imperial
Mary Preston, organ; Dallas Wind Symphony; Jerry Junkin, conductor
Reference Recordings RR-112
Format: CD
Released: 2007

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

From Age to Age
Joseph Galema, organ; The Denver Brass; Lowell Graham, conductor
Klavier K 11165
Format: CD
Released: 2007

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

by Rad Bennett

The combination of organ and brass (or wind ensemble) has produced some powerful recordings -- discs that are an audiophile’s delight. My favorite so far has been Music for Organ, Brass, and Percussion by organist Michael Murray and the Empire Brass [Telarc CD-8012]. Now we have not one, but two CDs worthy to be included in that’s disc’s company. In addition to first-rate musicians, each features a renowned audiophile guru in the recording department. Reference Recordings has producer J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr. along with engineer Keith O. Johnson. The Klavier disc was recorded, edited, and mastered by Bruce Leek, with producer Dennis Fisher.

Crown Imperial splits about even between original compositions for wind ensemble with organ and arrangements for the same combination. Of greatest interest on this CD are Richard Strauss’s Festival Intrada, in which the opening, over a pedal note, is reminiscent of the composer’s more famous Also Sprach Zarathustra; Hindemith’s pithy Kammermusic; and Michael Daugherty’s colorful tone poem, Niagara Falls. The ensemble plays well most of the time, but the woodwinds seem to scramble in some rapid passages, and Junkin’s leadership seems to lack incisiveness from time to time. From Age to Age is the opposite. Lowell Graham leads incisive, precise readings that are played to the man by his virtuoso musicians. Most of the compositions on this disc are original and written by 20th-century composers. Castérèdes’ urgent and dissonant work and Hazell’s more consonant, neo-Renaissance piece are both, in very different ways, striking compositions.

Both recordings are excellent, but they are quite different. The Reference Recordings sound is more resonant, offering a deep soundstage and warm ambience. The Klavier sound is close up and crisp with exceptional detailing of the organ’s upper register as well as the percussion instruments. Both offer plenty of opportunities for your subwoofer to kick in with commanding bass.