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Thomas Murray has long been lauded for his performance of orchestral transcriptions, and this recording of Grieg and Franck on the large Schoenstein organ in Houston follows on from similar releases on the JAV and Gothic labels. Murray approaches these scores in the manner one would expect of him: this is orchestral imitation rather than the creation of idiomatic new organ music. Comparison with Heinrich Walther’s transcription of the Franck Symphony (on a fabulous Organum Classics release: OGM 261098) or Erwin Wiersinga’s (based on Herbert Kidd’s) transcription of the same (Orgelparkrecords 005-2009) is illustrative in this regard. The playing style and the (excellent) organ stand firmly in the early 20th-century American tradition, extended thanks to the development in console technology on the one hand and the brilliant, if highly singular, vision of Schoenstein tonal director Jack Bethards on the other. Multiple enclosures, enclosures within enclosures, distinctive orchestral colour – this is an organ that knows what it wants to achieve and does it outstandingly well. Likewise, Murray plays as brilliantly as ever; but is Grieg’s Holberg Suite really symphonic, and isn’t the use of a zimbelstern in the last movement bordering on kitsch? Indeed, is Franck’s Symphony so symphonic as to demand such a Wagnerian approach? But the point here isn’t the steak so much as Murray and Bethard’s rich and potent sauce, one which, ultimately, is always going to divide the crowd.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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