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This is the ninth volume of recordings produced by Oehms on the Welte organ originally built for Titanic’s sister ship, ‘Britannic’ (below), but never installed, and which is now in the musical instruments museum in Seewen, Switzerland. The museum’s collection includes more than 1,200 master rolls, and here the organ’s roll player mechanism provides us with two CDs of quite incredible testimony by organists whose playing was never captured by microphones.

The first CD consists of rolls by Welte’s American organists and includes, intriguingly, Clarence Eddy playing his own works and pieces by Bossi and Faulkes, as well as several rolls by Samuel Baldwin including the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Variations by his teacher Dudley Buck, and a rhythmically approximate performance of the first two movements of the Guilmant first sonata. The second CD is of a different order, however, dedicated to the extraordinary playing of Edwin Lemare. This is difficult to sum up: clearly Lemare’s extraordinary reputation was well deserved by anyone’s standards. An extreme technique (pushing the pneumatic technology of the early 20th century to its limits) coupled to a highly attentive awareness of colour are the most obvious facets, but words are inadequate to describe the experience, even second-hand, of spending an hour in Lemare’s presence. The music includes several compositions by Lemare himself, including two movements from his lesser-known Second Symphony in D minor op.50 and the Andantino in D flat, played with extraordinary rubato.

These CDs contain a mine of information about the performance and registration practices common a century ago (frequent use of the chimes in highly unlikely places!) and are accompanied by an outstanding booklet. I retain my suspicions from a previous volume that some digital reverberation has been added; this is occasionally distracting.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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