The Whole Note

Organ recordings appear infrequently in this column. It’s of special interest therefore, that organist Erik Simmons’ latest release, Hymnus – Music for Organ by Carson Cooman, Divine Art (dda 25147) demonstrates how new technology and contemporary music can be a winning formula for an older genre. Producers of organ recordings have always wrestled with microphone placement in the quest for the right balance of acoustic space and the instrument’s presence. The problem becomes more complex when organ pipes are located in different places throughout a building. Enter digital technology. Anyone can now purchase a digitally sampled pipe organ, recorded as individual notes from an optimal acoustic location, and play that library of samples through a midi system from a compatible keyboard. That’s exactly how this 1787 organ in Weissenau, Germany, appears in this recording.

Every actual sound from the initial speaking attack of a pipe to its final decay and slight pitch drop is captured faithfully with every note. The authenticity of the performance location sounds so complete, it makes the likelihood of the recording being done in the comfort of his living room, even more astounding. American composer Carson Cooman, in his mid-30s, has a body of works that numbers well over a thousand. Most are short pieces, three to six minutes, and designed as music for church services where preludes, postludes and interludes on that scale are best suited. His style is fairly traditional, and contemporary in the lightest sense, engaging only occasionally with atonality. The variety of his writing is impressive and he’s capable of evoking greatly contrasting moods. This is especially effective as Erik Simmons uses the Weissenau organ to maximum colouristic effect, whether drawing a single flute rank or the full organ registration.

It’s a terrific recording for three reasons: superb playing, fine composition and technological astonishment.

—Alex Baran