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Simmern is lively and sophisticated. The Rhineland organ, meanwhile, is self-evidently the result of the confluence of geographical influences which a key trading route could produce. The reeds, and by extension the grands jeux, are clearly French in origin, and it is instructive that Essl registers the organ largely in the French manner (fugues on reed-based registrations, plein jeu plus C.F. on pedal reed, reeds and mixtures kept separate throughout the disc, the aforementioned grand jeux in Michael Belotti’s completion of the Ciaconna in G, etc.). The second CD features slightly less capricious, but nevertheless fine, playing from both Michael Belotti and James David Christie, and both discs are attractively programmed with free works inter- spersed with Christmas chorales on the first disc and Psalm melodies on the second. The bewitchingly charming organ played by Belotti and Christie is a real enigma. Originally built by Caspar Schippel as a single-manual instrument in the intimate village church of Bedheim (Thüringia) in 1711, it was enlarged ten years later by Nicolaus Seeber. The nature of this enlargement was splendidly unique: a second manual division in the swallow’s nest position facing the main case from the length of the nave with the action passing fully 20m from the console along the floor of the church’s attic. Surround-sound 18th-century style, you might say.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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