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Great Christmas Organ Music

Great Christmas Organ Music

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Christmas Vespers
In Dulci Jubilo

Ref: CDG1281

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Joyous and well-known Christmas organ music by some of the greatest masters of the past. Famous Christmas carol melodies, often in stunning arrangements mingle with chorale preludes and dances, played on an exceptionally fine American pipe organ in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Great Christmas Organ Music

Joyous and well-known Christmas organ music by some of the greatest masters of the past. Famous Christmas carol melodies, often in stunning arrangements mingle with chorale preludes and dances, played on an exceptionally fine American pipe organ in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

1 Hallelujah George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
arranged WT Best
2 Trumpet Tune and Air Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
arranged M Souter
3 A rose is blooming Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
4 Adeste fideles Edwin Lemare (1865-1934)

5 Auld lang syne Edwin Lemare

6 Trumpet Voluntary Jeremiah Clarke (c1674-1707)
arranged M Souter
7 A Christmas Pastorale Bertram Luard Selby (1853-1918)

8 In dulci jubilo Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), BWV 729
9 Sheep may safely graze Johann Sebastian Bach
arranged M Souter
10 Unto us a boy is born Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)

11 Come, Holy Saviour Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 659

12 Noël Suisse Louis-Claude Daquin (1694-1772)

13 Sleepers, Awake! Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 645

14 Thou alone, Oh God Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 664

15 Christmas Postlude George Mursell Garrett (1834-1897)

Martin Souter Organ

Organ by Thomas Appleton, Boston, 1830 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

What a joy of music is to be found on this album! The Christmas theme inspired composers of the past to produce some of their most beautiful and refined music. Not all Christmas music is relentlessly extrovert, however, and many of the pieces are contemplative or reflective, and they all give the organ a chance to display its varied characteristics, chief amongst which is the fullness and subtlety of its tones, whether being played 'full', or just on a small number of stops. Several of the pieces are indeed written for 'full' organ - the player pulling out all the stops - but many display the beauty of solo stops, artfully accompanied by gentle flute-like sounds, which murmur away in the background.

Most of the pieces are original organ compositions, but some are arrangements of orchestral and choral music. These arrangements were far more often to be heard in nineteenth century than they might be now. The organ was often called upon to play music of all types, and its role often became that of a surrogate choir and orchestra. Its sounds were often the means by which many people could hear the great works of the day. So it is fitting to begin this program with an arrangement of Handel's masterly 'Hallelujah Chorus'. WT Best was one of Victorian England's most famous musicians, and his work was known throughout the world in his published arrangements of important music, such as this extract from Handel's oratorio, 'Messiah'. Purcell's 'Trumpet Tune and Air', and Jeremiah Clarke's 'Trumpet Voluntary' receive similar treatment in arrangements by the performer himself. In between these two almost contemporaneous works Martin Souter plays a delightful piece by Johannes Brahms. 'A rose in bloom' is based on an old German hymn tune, but its harmonies are full of the richness of the late nineteenth century. Brahms composed this short piece a matter of weeks before he died, and he returned to an old form of organ composition, in which a preludial style of piece is based on a chorale tune from the Lutheran church. Several other pieces on this album follow a similar form, whether by Edwin Lemare or Johann Sebastian Bach. Lemare was a British organist who made a successful concert career in the town halls and concert venues of the United States in the decades around the beginning of the twentieth century, and his musical style owes much to Brahms in its harmonies and conservative musical structures. Lemare revered the organ works of Bach, of course, whose own take on the 'chorale prelude' can be heard several times here. ' In dulci jubilo' is one of his most famous pieces in this style, in which the hymn tune is decorated and filled out by cascading successions of notes. 'Come, Holy Saviour' is an exquisite rendering of the Advent hymn, and one of Bach's greatest organ works. ' Thou only, Oh God' treats the hymn tune in a similar way - in elaborate decoration, and floating over a gentle accompaniment. 'Sleepers. Awake!' is an arrangement by Bach himself of a movement from one of his church cantatas, written for Advent. 'Sheep may safely graze' is also a cantata movement, once more arranged for the organ by the organist, Martin Souter. This lovely piece is a gentle reflection of the pastoral mood which was so popular at Christmas time, in recognition of the importance to the Christmas story of the shepherds and animals gathered in the stable where Jesus was born. Luard Selby's 'A Christmas Pastorale' echoes this mood in nineteenth-century style. His gentle piece is also, however, based on famous Christmas hymns and melodies, including 'Christ is born this day', 'O come all ye faithful' and 'Of the Father's love begotten'. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck too, wrote music on popular tunes, including 'Unto us a boy is born', a Dutch version of the carol. This piece was probably written in the early years of the seventeenth century, and therefore it is the oldest piece of music on the album. Daquin's 'Noël Suisse', based on another old tune, dates from the eighteenth century.
Organ by Thomas Appleton, Boston 1830

The Appleton organ in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a remarkable musical instrument. Every sound it makes is pure and true, and its combinations of stops inspire committed music making. The organ stands on a high balcony, overlooking the Equestrian Court, and its rich sounds fill the air and the generous acoustics of a large room. It is a joy to play, despite the occasional creak or hiss from its mechanisms, which can sometimes be heard on this recording.


With special thanks to J. Kenneth Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge and to Lawrence Trupiano, organ builder.


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