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C B Fisk Organ, Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas


Jeremy Jones
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I listened last night (although endured might be a better word) to Christopher Herrick's new Hyperion Organ Fireworks CD played on the C B Fisk Organ at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas, USA. Mostly second-rate repertoire - I don't particularly mind that - but I don't actually think I've ever heard such an unlovely instrument as this one. I am not familiar with the work of C B Fisk, but is this instrument representative of their output?

 

Maybe, having just the previous day listened to Huw Williams new CD from St Paul's Cathedral, where I struggled to find the right superlatives to describe this superb recording of a truly wonderful organ, my expectations were too high? But I don't think so. The Dallas organ just sounds so un-musical, and makes me realise just how well Birmingham have done with their Klais.

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This seems to boil down to a matter of taste, I am afraid.

 

I haven't heard the Meyerson "Organ Fireworks", but I trust that the Hyperion staff did their usual high-end recording work and caught the organ as well as possible. From all other recordings from Meyerson I know, I find the organ utterly fascinating, powerful and bold. Mary Preston's Dupré recordings on Naxos are, to me, spectacular musically and soundwise, and so are the Dorian recordings with maître Guillou and Eduardo Mata playing Jongen and Saint-Saëns.

 

The organ is, among American "tracker backers", considered the definitive achievement of American tracker organ building in the 20th century. On the recordings, I always found the sound beefy, with unexpectedly heavy basses, and a flexibility on a truly symphonic scale. The instrument speaks, admittedly, with a voice of its own, and is easily recognised in recordings. There is some edge to the mixture sound, a certain sour quality, but the sound never lacks of healthy fundamental tone. As Fisk's own Greg Bower once said to me, "our organs are never shy".

 

As far as I know, there is only one builder in the US who is up to this, whose instruments are built along more traditional American lines, with e-p action, pitman chests etc, which is Schoenstein.

 

The comparison to the Birmingham Klais I find a difficult one, because there is such a difference in the overall approach to scaling, voicing and composing the sound in its entirety. The Klais sound traditionally (after all, they are along for 124 years now) is leaner, less heavy, and has a bias to the mixtures rather than the reeds. It may be more refined, but also is a little cooler than Fisk's Meyerson sound.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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This seems to boil down to a matter of taste, I am afraid.

 

I haven't heard the Meyerson "Organ Fireworks", but I trust that the Hyperion staff did their usual high-end recording work and caught the organ as well as possible. From all other recordings from Meyerson I know, I find the organ utterly fascinating, powerful and bold. Mary Preston's Dupré recordings on Naxos are, to me, spectacular musically and soundwise, and so are the Dorian recordings with maître Guillou and Eduardo Mata playing Jongen and Saint-Saëns.

 

The organ is, among American "tracker backers", considered the definitive achievement of American tracker organ building in the 20th century. On the recordings, I always found the sound beefy, with unexpectedly heavy basses, and a flexibility on a truly symphonic scale. The instrument speaks, admittedly, with a voice of its own, and is easily recognised in recordings. There is some edge to the mixture sound, a certain sour quality, but the sound never lacks of healthy fundamental tone. As Fisk's own Greg Bower once said to me, "our organs are never shy".

 

As far as I know, there is only one builder in the US who is up to this, whose instruments are built along more traditional American lines, with e-p action, pitman chests etc, which is Schoenstein.

 

The comparison to the Birmingham Klais I find a difficult one, because there is such a difference in the overall approach to scaling, voicing and composing the sound in its entirety. The Klais sound traditionally (after all, they are along for 124 years now) is leaner, less heavy, and has a bias to the mixtures rather than the reeds. It may be more refined, but also is a little cooler than Fisk's Meyerson sound.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

Ditto to all of the above. Mary Preston's Dupre on this organ is superlative. There are lots of wonderful Fisks on disc; they're often to be heard on 'Pipedreams'.

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Just a little point about Schoenstein's Windchests: They are not Pitman, but Membrane chests (Taschenladen), with the membranes laid out horizontally.

 

Pierre

 

I have come across membrane chests that under horrible heating and nil humidity conditions have caused the membrane leatherwork to dry out and become taut causing very interesting and unwanted problems.

 

FF

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I have come across membrane chests that under horrible heating and nil humidity conditions have caused the membrane leatherwork to dry out and become taut causing very interesting and unwanted problems.

 

FF

 

.....And we have here a 1907 Walcker whose membranes are still original.

So there are no reason to believe Schoenstein's won't do the same (Walcker

membranes leather came from the U.S.A.!)

Pierre

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Ditto to all of the above. Mary Preston's Dupre on this organ is superlative. There are lots of wonderful Fisks on disc; they're often to be heard on 'Pipedreams'.

It's quite a while ago now, but one of the most exciting small instruments I've come across is the Fisk at the Old West Church in Boston (US). Three manuals and pedals with only around 25-30 stops, but still large enough for well developed choruses. Good strong voicing all around, with great blend.

 

I also had the opportunity recently to hear Fisk's magnum opus at Lausanne Cathedral. Oh well ...

 

Let's just hope that there are substantially more "goodies" than "baddies".

 

Rgds,

MJF

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... what can the matter be?

My view is that they tried to do too much in this instrument. Partly North German baroque, partly French classical, partly French romantic ... To me, it's bit of a mash that just doesn't hang together.

 

Far better to hear or, better, play, some of their instruments in the US ... when it's safe to fly over there.

 

Rgds,

MJF

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My view is that they tried to do too much in this instrument.  Partly North German baroque, partly French classical, partly French romantic ... 

 

I understand what you mean, and agree in part. Their efforts on each part -- French classical and romantic, German baroque and romantic -- are quite convincing, I think, but then the non-romantic bits don't work as good as they probably could with some kind of unequal temperament.

 

I visited the cathedral when they were putting the organ together, and was intrigued by the engineerng and the overall layout of the instrument, as well as by the quality of engineering. It is all very well thought-out. They managed to bring the main divisions -- Choir, Positiv, Great, Solo, the Pedal chorus and some of the reeds -- out from under the sound-consuming vault between the towers; and all the divisions that form the symphonic Grand-Chœur -- Great, Swell, Solo, Pedal reeds -- are located on the same level, so that they stay in tune with each other.

 

I also was surprised about how meticulously David Pike, the head voicer, worked in every detail. He played the Positiv Prinzipal to me, which appeared to be a completely satisfying stop, musical and lively. When I said this to him, he answered, "a bit too lively still -- this division will be my work for next week". He had a tough job bringing all the different parts together.

 

The organ probably is not easy to handle. It needs a discerning player more than other instruments of that size.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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