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Vision at Covenant
Murray Forbes Somerville Plays Fisk Op. 134, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville
Five Stars, Choir & Organ - [OAR-931]
$15.98

Writes Michael Quinn in Choir & Organ:
*****Five Stars "Highly Recommended"
   
  This is a generous first recording for the splendid III/58 C. B. Fisk organ (2009) in Nashville's Covenant Presbyterian Church. Murray Forbes Somerville's wide-ranging recital showcases the instrument's rich harmonic range, supple poetic mien and robust muscularity to perfection. There's excitement in the playing, too, with a fiery account of Bach's G minor Fantasia, and a no less combustible take on Liszt's Prelude & Fugue on BACH.
     The organ's capacity for light and shade proves equally responsive to English (ancient and modern), French, and American music. With the church boasting exemplary acoustics (courtesy of Chicago-based Kirkegard Associates) the recorded sound is a joy. Excellent booklet notes.


Writes Michael Barone, host of the
Pipedreams radio program:
"What a wonderful thing Murray Forbes Somerville has made with his new CD from Covenant Presbyterian. Wow! Dramatic and iconoclastic playing of the Bach Fantasy, a delicious miscellany of largely unknown (at least under-recorded) pieces, all worth hearing, and ending up with a grippingly compelling performance of the Liszt BACH. Plus vivid sound, too...a superb job all around. Would that every new CD was as imaginative in its concept and so thoroughly enjoyable in its realization."

Writes James M. Reed in The Diapason, October, 2013:

"A grander, more dramatic performance of the [Bach] Fantasia one could not ask to hear! . . . I do not think I have heard a better performance of this (Liszt) since Gillian Weir . . . the spectacular roar of this instrument leaves the listener both thrilled and exhausted!  . . . playing demonstrates exceptional sensitivity, control and understanding . . .this disc provides a whirlwind trip around this luxuriant new Fisk organ, and will hold an honored place in my CD stack."


Writes David Wagner in The Diapason:
There are few recordings of new instruments that are so thoughtfully and beautifully produced as this Vision at Covenant. It reflects the careful planning, consideration, and execution of this instrument for a congregation where music plays a central role in their worship experience. There is no doubt that this instrument will also play an important role in the musical life of a city that prides itself on the nickname "Music City." With more instruments like the new Fisk, maybe Nashville could become "Organ City"?
     The recording opens dramatically with an extended trill to begin the Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 542, and the program notes tell us that the registration scheme used by Dr. Somerville is based on a performance of this work on the 1746 Hildebrandt organ in Naumburg, Germany. This instrument was probably played by Bach and might even have been designed by him. The Nashville Fisk also has, like the Hildebrandt, a big 32' reed in the Pedal and a 16' reed on the Great, as well as a celeste on the Oberwerk, which is used here in the soft section in the second fugato. Yes, Bach on a celeste! It works beautifully, with historically informed playing throughout the Bach that is never fussy but always musical. Somerville notes that he made all of the stop changes in the fantasia sans pistons.
     The instrument also takes us on a short tour of Europe with four English pieces, two French pieces, and then brings us home for four American hymn preludes. Finally there is one last grand German statement with the music of Franz Liszt.
     In the English section, of particular interest is the Elegy by Harold Darke, the composer best remembered today for the sensitive and beautiful setting of the Christina Rossetti text "In the bleak midwinter." From the manual stop changes in the Bach one can imagine the electric stop action being used to its full potential here, for the Darke work calls for a slow build-up to full organ, and then a melting away of the sound befitting a large English cathedral organ in a superbly live acoustic. It works well here, even without eight seconds of reverberation.
     It is always a delight to encounter first recordings of individual pieces, and this inaugural recording of the new Fisk contains two of these gems. The first is by John C. Hodgson . . .  In this piece the grand Tuba Mirabilis in English style is given a real workout! The second "first recording" is from the composer-in-residence at the Memorial Church at Harvard University, the young Carson Cooman, a composer who "... writes big pieces that sound terrific," to quote the American Record Guide. The 29-year-old composer wrote I Love to Tell the Story inspired by the Fisk and the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church. This more intimate work features the beautiful flutes of the Choir at 8' and 4', the Great Harmonic Flute, and the 8' Hautbois of the Swell.
     The centerpiece of the recording is the Vision of the Eternal Church by Olivier Messiaen, which was included to remind everyone of the fact that this new hilltop sanctuary of Covenant Church overlooks downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Here is music from the composer whom Erik Routley called "... the most original organ composer since Bach." What is needed for this piece is again an instrument that can produce and sustain that march to full organ and the even slower diminuendo that was described by Routley as a "study in duration."
     The recording concludes with Franz Liszt's 19th-century tribute to the musician whose music "began the recording, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H (the musical motive on Bach's name that translates in German notation to B-flat, A, C, and B natural) was also written for a premiere of a new instrument. The work was dedicated to Alexander Winterberger, who presented it for the first time in 1856 for the new Ladegast organ at Merseberg Cathedral. Again, not every organ (or organist!) is up to the task of this virtuoso showpiece, but it brings this recording to a stunning conclusion.

Vision at Covenant
introduces the great new C. B. Fisk organ, op. 134, of 58 stops on 3 manuals completed in 2009, as was the magnificent new edifice of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville, replete with Kirkegaard acoustics. Murray Forbes Somerville plays the first CD on this landmark organ. The organ was be featured during the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in 2012 as played by someone else.

J. S. Bach and a Romantic Work He Inspired
J. S. BACH: Fantasia & Fugue in g, BWV 542
J. S. BACH: Chorale Prelude, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend’, BWV 709
FRANZ LISZT: Prelude & Fugue on B-A-C-H

Four English Pieces
JOHN STANLEY: Voluntary in a, op. 7, no. 8
THOMAS TOMKINS: A verse of 3 parts
HAROLD DARKE: Elegy
J. C. HODGSON: Wedding March

Two French Pieces
CHARLES TOURNEMIRE: Suite Évocatrice, 2 mvts
OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle

Four American Hymn Preludes
RAYMOND HAAN: Softly and Tenderly
CARSON COOMAN: Rondino on I love to tell the story
CHARLES CALLAHAN: Prelude on Union Seminary
SAM BATT OWENS: Land of Rest

Vision at Covenant by Murray Forbes Somerville
Like a vision from ages past, the great Gothic sanctuary of Covenant Presbyterian Church, with its attendant school, sits high on a hill-top overlooking “Music City, USA.” But this building was dedicated as recently as Palm Sunday, 2009; and thanks to the bold vision of this congregation’s leaders, not only does the building look splendid in its commanding site, but it sounds splendid, owing to the acoustic design of Kirkegaard Associates, whose every recommendation was followed. And to top it off, the congregation then engaged one of the most distinguished American organbuilding firms, who here have quite outdone themselves; it is quite simply one of the finest organs I have ever played, anywhere.

It’s a fairly standard cliché for the first recording on a new organ to seek to show how the instrument is adept at all styles and periods of organ literature. But in this case it’s so very true! One recording can only give a taste of Fisk Op. 134’s ability to give deeply satisfying accounts of an amazing variety of different genres of organ writing.

The Greatest Organ Composer
First, music of the greatest organ composer of them all, which on this organ is a joy both to play and to listen to.


Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 – J. S. Bach
This great work is associated with Bach’s visit to Hamburg in 1720, in pursuit of the organist position at the Jakobikirche, with its great 4-manual Schnitger organ (extant.) The impassioned fantasia may have been composed just four months after the death of Bach’s first wife, perhaps explaining its emotional turbulence; while the exuberant fugue subject, one of Bach’s most popular from earliest days, is based on a Dutch folk song, which most scholars see as a compliment to the 90-year-old Dutch organist Reinken, still then associated with the Katherinenkirche in Hamburg. The registration scheme used for this work is almost exactly the same as that employed in a performance of this work on the 1746 Hildebrandt organ in Naumburg, Germany, an instrument certainly played, perhaps even designed by Bach. It, too, has a big 32' reed on the pedal and a 16' reed on the Great – as well as a céleste on the Oberwerk, which seemed ideal for the mysterious harmonies of the section with the descending pedal after the second fugato. (And incidentally, both in Naumburg and Nashville, I did all the stop changes in the fantasia by hand – no pistons!)
Chorale prelude Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend’, BWV 709 – J. S. Bach
The intimacy of the text of this chorale (“Lord Jesus Christ, be with us now”) seems mirrored in the beautiful and ornate melody Bach creates out of the basic tune. While thought to be one of Bach’s earlier works, it nonetheless shows all the expressiveness that makes his chorale settings so profound.

Four English Pieces
It’s particularly gratifying for this Englishman to find how well this instrument suits British organ literature both ancient and modern.
Voluntary in A minor, op. 7 no. 8 – John Stanley
Blind from an early age, John Stanley nonetheless became organist of the Temple Church in London, where Handel himself would go to hear him play. The pomposo introduction leads to an energetic allegro, where this instrument’s delicate touch enables it to be played like a harpsichord. After a few adagio chords (with suitable ornamentation), the final fugue with its open counterpoint is in the Italian style of Corelli.
A verse of 3 parts – Thomas Tomkins
One of the last great masters of England’s Golden Age, Tomkins was a pupil of Byrd, and must have been a brilliant keyboard virtuoso. He was organist of Worcester Cathedral at the time when the Puritans banned organs and all choral music from cathedral worship; this delicate miniature is dated August 1650, the year after the beheading of King Charles I, perhaps explaining its sense of melancholy.
Elegy – Harold Darke
This work, by the long-time organist of St. Michael’s, Cornhill, in London, is also deeply expressive. Like so much English organ music of the time, it calls for a slow build-up to full organ, and then a seamless melt-down to pianissimo, which this instrument manages in the best English Cathedral style.
Wedding March – John C. Hodgson
What incredible good fortune it was for me that this fine musician was my mentor in high school in the middle of Africa, in what was then Rhodesia  (now Zimbabwe). A superb pianist and fine organist, trained at the Royal Academy of Music, John Hodgson founded the music program at Peterhouse School and wrote this work, in typical English style, for the wedding of his colleague Jim Peto, choirmaster at the Cathedral in Salisbury (now Harare.) How JCH would have loved to hear it with the Fisk’s superb Tuba Mirabilis!

Two French Pieces
With its rich reeds and foundations and the church’s generous acoustic, the instrument is well suited to French repertoire despite the absence of several stops (4' reeds, especially) for which preparations have been made in the organ’s construction. Eight more stops are planned to make the organ’s versatility complete, but they are not yet purchased and installed at Covenant.

Tierce en taille et Récit de Chromorne, from Suite Évocatrice – Charles Tournemire
Both the Tierce en taille (Tierce stop used in the tenor register) and the Chromorne are characteristic sounds of the French baroque literature; here César Franck’s pupil and successor at Ste. Clothilde combines these antique sonorities with his mystical twentieth-century harmonic language in a uniquely fascinating way.
Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle (Vision of the Eternal Church) – Olivier Messiaen
The imposing sight of Covenant church’s great hilltop sanctuary overlooking downtown Nashville seems mirrored in this powerful creation, centerpiece of the recorded program, by the twentieth-century French organist described by Methodist clergyman and musicologist Erik Routley as “the most original organ composer since Bach.” Routley also characterized this work as “a study in duration,” with its slow, relentless crescendo to full organ (including opening the box on the Tuba at 16' and 8' pitches!) and even slower diminuendo, as Messiaen’s vision of the “cloud of witnesses” fades to black.

Four American Hymn Preludes
Covenant’s congregation sings its hymns fervently, and appreciates organ settings of familiar tunes, particularly from the great stock of American gospel hymns.

“Softly and tenderly” – Raymond Haan
Born in Falmouth, Michigan, and graduate of Calvin College and the University of Michigan, Mr. Haan was appointed the Director of Music for the Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids in 1960. He is the composer of some four hundred works for organ, voice, choir, handbells, piano and other instruments. This piece shows the softer colors of the instrument, including célestes at 16', 8' and 4'.
Rondino on “I love to tell the story” – Carson Cooman
Composer-in-residence at The Memorial Church, Harvard University, and a widely published and recorded composer for a variety of media, Carson dedicated the first work inspired specifically by this instrument to “the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church.” It features the Choir 8' and 4' flutes, the Great Harmonic Flute, and the 8' Hautbois on the Swell.
Prelude on “Union Seminary” – Charles Callahan
The melody of Harold Friedell’s much-loved anthem “Draw us in the spirit’s tether” was later turned into a hymn-tune called “Union Seminary” because Friedell had been on the faculty at the School of Sacred Music at Union Seminary in New York City. While organist of Rollins College Chapel in Winter Park, Florida, well-known organist and composer Charles Callahan dedicated this setting to Murray and Hazel Somerville, both graduates of Union’s sacred music school.
“Land of Rest” – Sam Batt Owens
Recognised as one of the South’s leading church musicians, Sam Batt Owens was for a number of years organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Church in Nashville. The melody, one of the best-known from the Appalachian folk tradition, was first published in The Sacred Harp of 1844.

Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H – Franz Liszt
To conclude this recorded program, the great nineteenth-century piano virtuoso’s tribute to the composer whose music started this disc, and whose name in German music notation makes a musical motif (B-flat, A, C, B-natural). Composed in 1855, the piece was first performed for the inauguration of the new Ladegast organ of Merseberg Cathedral the following year; in it Liszt employs the full panoply of organ colors and virtuosic techniques. The fantasy is dedicated to the organist Alexander Winterberger, who played the premiere. The fugue (in which, it has to be said, the counterpoint does not last very long) is actually embedded as a section in the fantasia; the work’s seemingly improvisational character is nonetheless based on a strict formal foundation.

Transforming Wind Into Music
by David C. Pike, Executive Vice President and Tonal Director, C. B. Fisk, Inc.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville, has built a magnificent space – as sympathique a space for organ sound as an organbuilder this side of the Atlantic could ever yearn for. The leaders of the church, together with architects David Harper and Paul Law of Hnedak Bobo Group, Dana Kirkegaard of Kirkegaard Acoustic Design LLC, and C. B. Fisk Inc., began an open and consequential collaboration in late 2005, the result of which is this splendid house of worship which was dedicated in April, 2009.

The organ was installed during six weeks of February and March, and the 58-stop instrument, visually commanding in its 48-foot-tall solid oak case, stands at the front of the sanctuary, its pipes voiced for the receptive space. The voicing of a pipe organ begins with its tonal design, and the tonal design begins with two important considerations: acoustics and placement. The organbuilder who visits the great organs in Europe’s stone churches comes away with one overriding and unambiguous impression – that the room is paramount. What glorious rooms these ancient structures are! The pipe organ, having grown up in these lofty and reverberant Romanesque and Gothic edifices, needs a live acoustical environment almost as much as humans need air to breathe. It is in such surroundings, where reverberation is inevitable, that the organ evolved into the majestic and expressive contraption that we know today. It is not a stretch to think of these buildings themselves as musical instruments, vessels that support and sustain (for quite a lot of seconds) any sound produced within their walls. The longer I build organs, the more I believe that the room is the single most influential element, bar none. How difficult it is to bring the radiant qualities of even the humblest village church organ in France, Holland, or Germany back to our squashed and padded church buildings here in the States! It would be wonderful if more American churches, small or large, could be conceived and designed, or refurbished, in a manner that creates beautiful, natural acoustical environments that enhance, rather than detract from, the mysteries of liturgy and music. The desire, the means, and frank and purposeful collaboration between church and people, architects, acoustical consultants, and organbuilders – all of which happened in Nashville – are what is required.
Organ placement is critical to the end musical result. Locating the organ on the main axis of the building, where it can speak without obstruction down the length of the nave, is the first rule for church organs. Front versus rear placement is often a matter of either congregational preference or practicality and both locations have proven effective. Lofting the organ into a gallery provides an advantage where practicable: the resulting proximity to the ceiling provides early sound reflection, projecting balanced organ sound down to the listeners’ ears. The enhanced acoustical result is dependent on the mass, shape, and surface treatment of the ceiling. Direct line-of-sight placement in a wooden case or reflective shell provides clarity and presence as well as blending and cohesion of organ tone.
Pipes and divisions are placed within the organ case with consideration of tonal egress and the varying character of each division. At Covenant Church, each manual division has a conspicuously unique spatial characteristic when heard in the nave because of the way each division’s placement relates to the architecture at the front of the room.
Warm vocal tone comes from keeping all parameters of pipe construction and voicing in proper balance and from voicing the pipes in an open, unfettered style. If one thinks of an organ pipe as a transducer; that is, a device that transforms one type of energy into another (in this case, air pressure into sound waves), then one recognizes the crucial relationship among pipe scaling, wind pressure, room volume, acoustics, optimization of pipe construction materials and technique, and the voicer’s experience in applying the panoply of manipulative adjustments to each pipe in pursuit of the very best result. The Fisk firm maintains its own pipe fabrication facility where we alloy and cast metal and make our pipes, thus we have maximum flexibility and control of pipe design and construction. For us at C. B. Fisk, voicing is ineluctably linked to both pipe design and pipe construction. Good pipes make good voicing possible to achieve with beautiful, lively tone and balanced ensembles.
“The struggle for the good organ is to me a part of the struggle for the truth . . .,” wrote Albert Schweitzer in 1931 about his “practical interest” in organbuilding. As a team at C. B. Fisk, we represent a formidable constellation of knowledge and experience, yet we do not allow that fact to prevent us from searching for further understanding and insight. Happily, an emerging cadre of architects, acousticians, musicians, and organbuilders is becoming attuned to the advantages of meaningful collaboration, a fact that is borne out by Nashville’s splendid Covenant Presbyterian Church and our Opus 134. As C. B. Fisk’s tonal director, I can only hope that such partnerships will become more and more frequent, because it is clearly under these circumstances that our art will continue to have the opportunity to flourish.

C. B. Fisk, Inc., Op. 134, 2009
Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee


GREAT, Man.1, 61 notes
    16'    Principal (in façade)
    8'    Octave
    8'    Gambe
    8'    Spire Flute
    8'    Harmonic Flute
    4'    Octave
    4'    Open Flute
    2'    Quinte
    2'    Superoctave
    1'    Tierce (prep.)
II-VI    Progressive Mixture
    VI    Full Mixture
    16'    Bombarde
    8'    Trompette
    4'    Clairon (prep.)
Octaves graves Great
Positive to Great
Swell to Great

POSITIVE, Man. 2, enclosed
    16'    Quintaton (prep.)
    8'    Principal (in façade)
    8'    Diapason (prep.)
    8'    Salicional (prep.)
    8'    Gedackt
    4'    Octave
    4'    Rohrflöte
    2'    Nasard
    2'    Doublette
    1'    Tierce
    IV    Mixture
    16'    Cor anglais (prep.)
    8'    Clarinette
    8'    Tuba mirabilis
Swell to Positive

SWELL, Man. 3, enclosed
    16'    Bourdon
    8'    Viole de gambe
    8'    Voix céleste
    8'    Flûte traversière
    8'    Bourdon
    4'    Flûte octaviante
    2'    Octavin
IV-V    Plein jeu
    III    Cornet (G0-d3)
    16'    Basson
    8'    Trompette
    8'    Hautbois
    8'    Voix humaine (prep.)
    4'    Clairon (prep.)

PEDAL, 32 notes
    32'    Principal (ext. Gt. 16' in façade)
    16'    Contrebasse
    16'    Principal (Gt.)
    16'    Soubasse
    16'    Bourdon (Sw. 16')
    10'    Quinte (ext. Bourdon/ Contrebasse 16')
    8'    Octave
    8'    Gambe (Gt.)
    8'    Spire Flute (Gt.)
    8'    Bourdon (ext. Sw. 16)
    4'    Octave
    32'    Contre Bombarde (ext. Bombarde 16')
    16'    Trombone
    16'    Bombarde (alt with Gt.)
    8'    Trompette (alt with Gt.)
    4'    Clairon (alt with Gt., prep.)
Great to Pedal
Positive to Pedal
Swell to Pedal, Swell to Pedal 4'

Great and Positive Tremulant
Swell Tremulant
Flexible Wind Knob
Cymbelstern

Key Action: Direct mechanical (tracker)
Kowalyshyn Servopneumatic Lever on Great
Stop Action: Electric Solenoids
Combination Action: Solid State Organ Systems
Keydesk: Attached to case, naturals of bone, sharps of ebony
Front Pipes: Great façade pipes of burnished tin; Positive façade pipes of hammered lead

Vision at Covenant<BR><Font Color=red>Murray Forbes Somerville Plays Fisk Op. 134, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville<BR><font color=purple>Five Stars, <I>Choir & Organ</I></font>
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