Jack Mitchener plays Christmas organ music on the 75-rank pipe organ built by C. B. Fisk as Op. 116 in 2001 at Finney Chapel, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio. (Please see James M. Reed's review in The Diapason beneath the stoplist below.)
Louis-Claude Daquin: Noël X (Grand Jeu et Duo)
J. S. Bach: In dulci jubilo, BWV 729
Marcel Dupré: In dulci jubilo (from 79 Chorales, Op. 28)
Alexandre Guilmant: Noël polonais
Paul Manz: Gabriel’s Message
Claude Balbastre: Où s’en vont ces gais bergers?
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
Louis-Claude Daquin: Noël Étranger
Pietro Yon: Pastorale Gesù Bambino
Maurice Duruflé: Prélude sur l’Introït de l’Épiphanie
Henri Mulet: Noël (from Byzantine Sketches)
Eric Thiman: Postlude on Adeste fideles
Johannes Brahms: Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Gerald Near: Freu dich Sehr (Comfort, Ye My People)
Adolphe Adam: O Holy Night (arr. T. Tertius Noble)
Eugène Gigout: Rhapsodie sur des noëls
Christmas Organ Music and the Finney Chapel Organ
by Jack Mitchener
The large Fisk organ in Finney Chapel is designed in the style of instruments built in France in the late nineteenth century by the celebrated Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. It is a magnificent instrument that affords exceptional variety in registration and dynamics — the latter due to the expressive Positif and Récit divisions. The French character of the organ led me quite obviously in the direction of French repertoire, yet the eclecticism of this instrument makes it suitable for a host of other styles.
Even though the Finney Fisk is decidedly nineteenth-century in nature, the French noëls from the eighteenth century by Balbastre and Daquin work exceedingly well — the reeds and mutations bring the works to life. And the simple setting of In dulci jubilo (In sweet joy) of Bach is astonishingly clear with the Principal stops from the Positif and the German-style Violone 16’ in the Pedal. The delightful preludes of Manz and Near are beautiful examples of American repertoire for Advent. The Dupré setting of In dulci jubilo is probably the most popular of his 79 Chorales in Op. 28, and Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen (“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming”) of Brahms is a charming and gentle Christmas gem. The Vaughan Williams is a transcription of the ravishing Fantasia on Greensleeves. In this piece, you will hear some of the organ’s most beautiful solo stops. T. Tertius Noble’s arrangement of the Cantique de Noël (“O Holy Night”) by Adolphe Adam also shows the enormous dynamic range of the Fisk organ. The Pastorale Gesù Bambino is among the most popular Christmas pieces in the classical repertoire and appears in countless arrangements. The Hautbois of the Récit and Flûte harmonique of the Grand Orgue are featured prominently in this piece. The Thiman setting of Adeste fideles (“O come, all ye faithful”) is a rousing postlude for a joyous Christmas celebration and in it the full resources of the organ are used.
Despite its great success with the aforementioned repertoire, the Finney Fisk comes into its own in the French romantic style. The registrations suggested by the composers were followed and worked with very little adjustment. The Guilmant Noël polonais (“Infant holy, infant lowly”) is a set of variations on the popular Polish carol that demonstrates the gamut of possibilities in registration on the instrument – from silvery strings to brilliant and resounding reeds. The Duruflé Prélude sur l’Introït de l’Éphiphanie is a liturgical piece that shows the contrast between the Récit mixture chorus (plenum) and the Positif Trompette. In the colorful Noël from the Byzantine Sketches by Mulet, the mutations from the Positif contrast with various flutes and strings from throughout the organ. The concluding work is a fanciful and exciting romp through numerous French noëls. The two tunes that most listeners will recognize are Adeste fideles (“O come, all ye faithful”) that is heard on the Voix humaine from the Récit division in the middle section and the refrain from “Angels we have heard on high” (the French noël Les anges dans nos campagnes) that appears in the pedal reeds in the closing section. Throughout the piece Gigout follows standard improvisational practice by combining various themes. The carillon-like effect in the manuals in the opening and closing sections gives symmetry to the piece and to the recording that began with the ringing of bells.
The American organ builder Ernest M. Skinner often remarked that the room is the most important stop on an organ. As imposing a space as Finney Chapel is, it does not have live acoustics. As a remedy, recording engineer Edward Kelly has added subtle reverberation that provides warmth and beauty. May the glorious sounds of the Fisk organ in Finney Chapel fill your hearts with the spirit of Christmas – Joyeux Noël!
A laureate of the Dublin International Organ Competition, Jack Mitchener is a leading American concert organist, having performed to critical acclaim across the USA, Europe and Asia. His recordings for the Raven, Bel Canto, and MPA labels receive critical acclaim, and he has also recorded for the Austrian National Radio and National Public Radio (including Pipedreams). He has performed in notable venues such as St. Sulpice and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, St. Thomas Church, New York City, the Augustinerkirche in Vienna and the Jacobikirche in Lübeck, Germany. He also has collaborated with such renowned musicians as Nick Eanet (Concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), the Mendelssohn and Ying String Quartets, lutenist Paul O’Dette, baroque flutists Sandra Miller and Rebecca Troxler, and composer John Corigliano. Appointed in 2012 as associate professor of
organ and church music at Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, and
director of the Townsend-McAfee Institute of Church Music there, he has taught at Oberlin
College Conservatory of Music, the Eastman School of
Music, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Colgate
Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and Salem College.
A former organ student of Marie-Claire Alain, Guy Bovet, David Craighead, David Higgs, Susan Landale, John Mueller, Robert Murphy, and Russell Saunders, he also studied improvisation with Gerre Hancock. Piano study was with James Cobb, Louise Leach, Kimberly Kabala, and Clifton Matthews. He studied harpsichord with Arthur Haas and Huguette Dreyfus. He holds three degrees including a doctorate and the prestigious Performer’s Certificate in both organ and harpsichord from the Eastman School of Music. During his two years studying in Paris, he won the Médaille d’or (Gold Medal), Prix d’Excellence, and Prix de Virtuosité at the Conservatoire National de Rueil-Malmaison, France. He also served as Organist at the American Cathedral in Paris. In addition, he has served on numerous competition juries including the Biarritz International Organ Competition in France. He is a member of the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society and has been cited in numerous Who’s Who publications.
Pipe Organ built by C. B. Fisk, Inc., Gloucester, Massachusetts, Op. 116, 2001
Finney Chapel, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
57 voices, 75 ranks, 3,951 pipes
Grand Orgue Manual I
Flûte harmonique 8
Dessus de Cornet V
Grande Fourniture II
Petite Fourniture V-VIII
Positif Manual II, enclosed
Unda maris 8
Cor de Nuit 8
Flûte douce 4
Plein jeu IV
Cor Anglais 16
Récit Manual III, enclosed
Viole de gambe 8
Voix céleste 8
Flûte traversière 8
Flûte octaviante 4
Plein jeu III-IV
Voix humaine 8
Montre 32 (from 16)
Montre 16 (G.O.)
Sousbasse 16 (32)
Contre Bombarde 32
Pédales de Combinaison Hook- down pedals in Mode français
Tirasse Grand Orgue
Copula Positif/Grand Orgue
Copula Récit/Grand Orgue
Grand Orgue sur la machine
Octaves graves Grand Orgue
Anches Grand Orgue
Trémolo Récit; Trémolo Positif
Coupler drawknobs above Récit available in American Mode*
Octaves graves GO
*American Mode includes a multi-level combination action accessed with thumb pistons and registration sequencer with both thumb pistons and pedals.
Balanced Expression Pedals
Key action: Direct mechanical (tracker)
Kowalyshyn Servo-pneumatic Lever
Stop action: Electric Solenoid
Casework: A single cabinet of oak, incorporating portions of the original organ case designed by Cass Gilbert, architect of Finney Chapel
Manual compass 61 notes
Pedale compass 32 notes
Reviews James M. Reed in The Diapason, January 2015, page 13-14:
The splendid 75-rank Fisk at Oberlin gives an excellent account of itself here under the expert fingers of Jack Mitchener (a performer of whom I really wish we could hear a little more).
The chapel bells begin the recording, adding to the festive, seasonal ambiance. The organ music begins with a crisp, tight performance of one of Louis-Claude Daquin's under-performed Noëls, number 10, and showcases the mutations and powerful reeds very well. This is equally true of the Noël Étranger (also Daquin) and the simple, but charming, piece by Claude Balbastre, Où s'en vont ces gais bergers?, which sounds particularly effective.
Johannes Brahms' chorale prelude, Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, will require no introduction to readers and is given loving treatment here with the flutes of the instrument (although Mitchener could have indulged the tempo a little more here). A transcription of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Creensleeves shows clearly the flexibility of instrument and performer with well-handled crescendi, and although this is no Father Willis organ, it certainly puts forth a convincing impression for this most English of music!
Several American works are included, including two rather effective Advent chorale preludes: Gerald Near's lilting and very effective setting of Comfort, Comfort Ye My People, and The Angel Gabriel (from Six Advent Improvisations) by Paul Manz, which (despite being a rather dull and unimaginative piece) would probably find a useful and practical place in many a parish organists liturgical repertoire. T. Tertius Noble's transcription of Adolphe Adam's much-loved Cantique de Noël is well executed with suitable and interesting registration, as is the infinitely more interesting and stirring setting of Adeste fideles by Eric Thiman, which gives a wonderful trot through the tonal spectrum of the instrument.
No Christmas disc would be complete without BWV 729, the chorale prelude In duici juhilo, made famous to the world by the annual King's College Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast. Mitchener's performance is clear, articulate, and accurate, with a light, delicate registration—an alternative stylistic approach to the grand, stately, and almost romanticized performance heard each year from Cambridge.
The real joy of this CD is, however, the romantic French music, which sits so well on this instrument. Marcel Dupré's lovely work based on In duici jubilo, with gentle string and flue registrations, is a charming, meditative little piece, and probably the best known of his 79 Chorales, op. 28. The Alexandre Guilmant variations on the Polish carol, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (with predictable, but pleasing treatment of the theme), showcase both the strings of the instrument, as well as the impressive crescendo. Prélude sur I'lntroït de I'Épiphanie by Maurice Durufle is a worthy addition to the organ repertoire, demonstrating the Récit chorus and the Positif Trompette, and is nicely played by Mitchener—as is Henri Mulet's haunting and melancholic Noël, number 8 from his Byzantine Sketches, which highlights the softer registrations and mutations of the Positif. Rhapsodie sur des noëls by Eugène Gigout is a splendidly bombastic Christmas postlude medley of seasonal carols and is a fitting close to this disc; this great piece, coupled with the Thiman and Near, justifies purchase of the disc all by itself.
Both the recording quality and the eight-page booklet are of customarily high Raven quality, and whether searching for new Christmas repertoire inspiration, or simply a recording of seasonal organ music superbly performed, this is a super disc for both organists and enthusiasts alike.