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Platinum: Stephen Williams Plays the Organ of St. John's Luthean Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania - [OAR-957] $15.98

Stephen Williams plays the 87-rank Reuter pipe organ built in 1993 at St. John's Lutheran Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Ernest M. Skinner & Son Organ Company built in 1937 the original instrument from which many ranks are incorporated. Added before the Reuter work of 1993 and retained is an almost unique horizontal reed installed at the ceiling, high above the chancel. The beloved organ enjoys excellent acoustics. Earlier, the Skinner organ had been rebuilt by the Lehigh Organ Company of Macungie, Pennsylvania.

J. S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

J. S. Bach: Wake, awake, for night is flying, BWV 645

J. S. Bach: Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, BWV 147

Felix Mendelssohn: Sonata No. 6 in D minor

Percy Whitlock: Fanfare

Antonio Soler: The Emperor’s Fanfare

César Franck: Choral No. 2 in B minor

Petr Eben: Moto ostinato (from Sunday Music)

Leo Sowerby: Carillon

Louis Vierne: Carillon de Westminster

Platinum

In November of 1993, St. John’s Lutheran Church and the surrounding areas of downtown Allentown, Pennsylvania were buzzing with a rare kind of excitement that comes around maybe once in a lifetime for communities and church members, if they’re fortunate. It was this program they were looking forward to – the dedicatory recital celebrating the newly refurbished organ. The house was jammed with people, eagerly waiting to hear what had been done to ‘their’ organ.

In 1938, when the building was completed, a new organ built by Ernest M. Skinner from Methuen, Massachusetts, was installed. Skinner, known as one of the finest and most innovative builders of the time, built an organ that boasted a unique orchestral sound with large diapasons, color reeds, signature strings and flutes that created a beautiful, thick, luscious cathedral effect.

 In 1990, mechanical difficulties left the organ struggling to make those sounds, noticeably suffering from a deterioration of mechanisms that included leather parts, electrical wiring, and many switches and controls the eye never sees.

The organ committee, with an eclectic representation of background, age, organ experience, and opinion, was asked to decide whether to restore the instrument, rebuild it using as much of the old pipework as possible, or ditch the whole idea of pipes and seek alternatives.

After consulting with a list of professionals in the repair/restoration arena, representatives from the Reuter Organ Company in Lawrence, Kansas, were sensitive to and sensible about this instrument. They were always very clear and intentional about building an instrument that included repurposing the best of old pipework into a scheme that would embrace our needs for the future. Today, hosts of worshipers, brides, mourners, choirs, soloists, instrumentalists, and those who admire this organ as a concert instrument are thrilled time and again by its variety and flexibility of sounds, its powerful and yet gentle presence, and its uncannily perfect fit in the environment.

Although a challenging decision in many ways, we praise and laud those in decision making roles for their resolve to retain and maintain a musical instrument of true integrity and excellence. In entering the third decade of enjoying the benefits of a decision well made in 1993, we believe now more than ever that future generations deserve to possess the best tools available to carry on the goals that center around the work of our faith and ministry, and the organ is most certainly one of those tools.

On a personal note, I would like to say that it is an enormous privilege to play this instrument on almost a daily basis. The sounds of this organ have time and again brought a sense of balance and perspective to my thinking, and transported and challenged me to outer and otherwise unrealized realms of beauty and music-making. For that, I am forever grateful. —Stephen Williams

 

The Music

The program begins with J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, one of the most immediately identifiable pieces written for the organ. It showcases the Principal choruses and full ensemble sounds of all the divisions.  Even the Antiphonal organ, located in the balcony nearly a half block away from the main case, is employed for secondary and echo effects.  The two Bach chorale preludes that follow feature solo reed stops. The setting of the Advent hymn Wake! Awake, for night is flying uses alternating trumpets from the Swell and Antiphonal divisions, and at the end combines the two reeds. The well-known organ transcription of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from Cantata 147 uses string sounds with mutation stops from the “Gemshorn row” of the Choir division to accompany the chorale tune on two of E. M. Skinner’s signature reeds, the French Horn and the English Horn.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Sixth Sonata from Op. 65 is in the form of a theme and variations based on the chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich (Our Father, God in Heaven Above).  The opening theme, or chorale, is presented on the organ’s abundant 8‘ and 16‘ flue stops – a sound that fills the room with both warmth and reassuring strength. The variations provide great opportunities for exploration of flute ensembles and color reeds. The final variation demonstrates a Germanic plenum toccata treatment in the manuals superimposed over the melody on a strong pedal reed. As the variation progresses, more principal and reed stops are added to create a full complement by the end of the movement. The Fugue that follows continues to explore larger ensembles, finally developing into a dialogue between the heroic Festival Trumpet (in the ceiling) and the commanding Tuba (enclosed in the Choir). The final movement is one of the most beautiful examples of the lyric Mendelssohn, inspiring the use of gentle foundations and rich organ string tone.

The next two selections feature the organ’s two major trumpet stops. First, English composer Percy Whitlock’s Fanfare uses the Reuter Tuba, voiced on 25” of wind, to full advantage. The work’s calmer, quieter middle section features the Choir Clarinet, strings, and Swell Vox Humana. The bookend sections of Antonio Soler’s Emperor’s Fanfare are played almost entirely on what has been dubbed the “Party Horn in the Sky,” horizontal trumpets mounted in the ceiling nearly eighty feet above the floor at the entrance to the chancel. We are still trying to figure out whose crazy idea it was to install these pipes in the ceiling, but we are sure glad they did it, particularly since it has brought a smile to many brides at their wedding entrance.

French Romantic organ music is often surrounded by a dark and intense mysticism, as exemplified by the Belgian-born César Franck’s beautifully crafted Choral in B minor. The choral here is not a Lutheran-based hymn tune as it was for Bach and Mendelssohn, but is an original theme that is set in a choral-like way.  It develops as a seamless journey, unfolding with drama and gestures that are distinctly orchestral. Stops of the organ are used to create subtle shadings of light and dark by way of crescendo and decrescendo. Dame Gillian Weir refers to this composition as, “Franck’s best work, a giant passacaglia, suggesting the tolling of a great bell as it moves from somber genesis through an avalanche of sound to its peaceful end.”

Petr Eben was a Czech composer whose music remains delightfully challenging for both performer and listener. Moto ostinato is the fascinating third piece from a suite entitled Sonntagsmusik (Sunday Music), even though it is unlikely to be heard at most church services. In an ongoing drama of good versus evil, this movement is based on the passage in the Gospel of Mark (5:9), “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Eben uses a militaristic, rhythmic ostinato to advance the music in volume and intensity until it seems the ranks of organ pipes will literally break loose from their orderly moorings. At the beginning, we hear the Great Cornet pitted against the Great Trombone. In a quieter section, the French Horn and high-pitched stops from the diminutive Gemshorn Cornet continue the dialogue.  The Swell Waldhorn and Choir Clarinet are also paired before the larger ensembles begin to take over in a relentless march to full organ, ultimately cap­ped by the Festival Trumpet.

The final two works on the program are signature pieces at St. John’s, having been played by musicians past and present for many, many occasions. Carillon by American composer Leo Sowerby is a delightfully moving and quiet piece. It is perfectly at home on the St. John’s instrument using Harp, Chimes, and French Horn, along with the beautifully singing strings and flutes. The discerning ear will detect in this recording a slight tuning inconsistency and a bit of extra action noise when the Harp/Celesta is heard. The harp is a bona fide component installed with the E. M. Skinner & Son organ in 1938. Perhaps it existed in the organ built as Op. 525 in 1925 by Skinner’s previous firm, the Skinner Organ Company of Boston, for a New York City church and acquired by Skinner when that church replaced it in 1937 with a new Austin organ. The harp has been a lovely and useful stop for many years, but now suffers mechanical difficulties. When we were recording this CD, the harp was having a particularly difficult time of it, but we decided to use it in honor of its long years of faithful service instead of using the electronic harp added in 2013 to join four other digital stops which had been installed in 1997 (as noted in the stoplist in this booklet).

Louis Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster (from his 24 Pièces de Fantaisie, Op. 54, No 6) is based on the chimes of the clock tower (now called the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II) on the north side of the Palace of Westminster in London, also nicknamed “Big Ben” after the name of the largest (13.5 tons) of the tower’s four bells. Vierne dedicated this piece to his friend, noted English organ builder Henry Willis, who, as legend has it, hummed the tune to Vierne, although slightly incorrectly. The truth will never be known, but it is also very likely Vierne altered the tune to suit his own designs. Nevertheless, it is a magnificent piece in every way, and a splendid way to end the celebration of this grand organ!

 

Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams is Director of Music and Organist at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a position he has held longer than 20 years. He is also Director of Chapel Music, College Organist, and Visiting Lecturer in Music at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. His musical training includes study at Brevard College, West Chester University, Westminster Choir College and The Juilliard School, and he has been privileged to work with Marilyn Keiser, Donald McDonald, Jon Gillock, Stefan Engels, and Anita Greenlee.

 

As Artistic Director of Arts at St. John’s, he has performed more than one hundred solo organ recitals, including two complete cycles of the organ works of J. S. Bach. As a collaborator and concerto soloist, he has appeared with numerous instrumentalists, vocalists and ensembles, many from the Lehigh Valley area. He has performed organ recitals throughout the United States and in Canada, Great Britain, The Nether­lands, and France. He has recorded extensively for the music publishers Shawnee Press and Warner Brothers.

 

In 2006, he received the City of Allentown’s Arts Ovation Award for exceptional performance and community involvement. He has served several terms as Dean of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

 

The Organ

In 1993, the organ was completely rebuilt at the Reuter Organ Company workshop in Lawrence, Kansas, including a new console, new mechanisms for most of the organ, and many new pipes. The organ retains many sets of pipes andthe original Harp stop installed at St. John’s in 1938 as Ernest M. Skinner & Son organ built in Methuen, Massachusetts,
using some parts of the organ built as Op. 525 in 1925 by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston. Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) had founded that firm in 1901, led it to preeminence among American organbuilders in the first third of the 20th century, and left it in 1935 after it had become Aeolian-Skinner in 1932. The original Op. 525 of 1925 was a three-manual console for the existing 1891 Odell gallery organ at Marble Collegiate Reformed Church in New York City as well as a new 14-rank chancel organ to replace the Odell ranks in the chancel. The Skinner organ was first rebuilt in 1969 by the Lehigh Organ Company of Macungie, Pennsylvania.

 

Reuter Organ Company, Lawrence, Kansas, Op. 2163, 1993

Lehigh Organ Company, Macungie, Pennsylvania, 1969

Ernest M. Skinner & Son Organ Company, Methuen, Massachusetts, Op. 525, 1938

4 manuals, 87 ranks

 

Great

16’ Double Diapason

8’ Principal

8’ Diapason

8’ Stopped Diapason tc

8’ Harmonic Flute

8’ Bourdon

4’ Octave

4’ Spindle Flute

4’ Diapason

2’ Fifteenth

IV Mixture

IV Mounted Cornet

16’ Festival Trumpet

16’ English Horn (Ch)

8’ Tromba

8’ Festival Trumpet

8’ Tuba Mirabilis (Ch)

8’ French Horn (Ch)

8’ English Horn (Ch)

Tremulant

Chimes (Ch)

Cymbelstern

 

Swell

16’ Stopped Flute

8’ Geigen

8’ Violon Cello

8’ Cello Celeste

8’ Chimney Flute

8’ Stopped Flute

8’ Flute Dolce

8’ Flute Celeste tc

4’ Principal

4’ Spire Flute

4’ Stopped Flute

2-2/3’ Nazard

2’ Recorder

1-3/5’ Tierce

IV Full Mixture

16’ Double Trumpet

16’ Waldhorn

8’ Trumpet

8’ Waldhorn

8’ Oboe d’Amour

8’ Vox Humana

4’ Clarion

Tremulant

 

Choir

16’ Gemshorn

8’ Diapason

8’ Voce Umana tc

8’ Gemshorn

8’ Gemshorn Celeste

8’ Erzahler

8’ Erzahler Celeste tc

8’ Gedeckt

8’ Concert Flute

4’ Principal

4’ Flute

4’ Gemshorn

2-2/3’ Twelfth

2’ Gemshorn

2’ Fifteenth

2’ Gemshorn

1-3/5’ Seventeenth

1-3/5’ Gemshorn

1-1/3’ Nineteenth

1’ Gemshorn

IV Mixture

III Cymbal

8’ Trumpet

8’ Clarinet

8’ French Horn

8’ English Horn

8’ Vox Humana*

8’ Festival Trumpet

8’ Tuba Mirabilis

Tremulant

4’ Harp tc

 

Antiphonal

8’ Principal

8’ Gedeckt

4’ Octave

4’ Gedeckt

2-2/3’ Quint

2’ Octavin

III Mixture

16’ Festival Trumpet

16’ Tuba Mirabilis  tc (Ch)

8’ Festival Trumpet

8’ Trumpet

8’ Tuba Mirabilis (Ch)

8’ French Horn (Ch)

8’ English Horn (Ch)

4’ Trumpet

Tremulant

4’ Harp (Ch)

Chimes (Ch)

 

Pedal

32’ Violone*

32’ Bourdon

32’ Stopped Flute*

32’ Resultant (Ant)

16’ Principal

16’ Contrabass

16’ Double Diapason (Gt)

16’ Gemshorn (Ch)

16’ Bourdon

16’ Gedeckt (Ant)

16’ Stopped Flute (Sw)

8’ Principal

8’ Contrabass

8’ Diapason (Gt)

8’ Bourdon

8’ Stopped Flute (Sw)

4’ Principal

4’ Bourdon

4’ Diapason (Gt)

IV Mixture

32’ Trombone*

32’ Waldhorn (Sw)

16’ Trombone

16’ Festival Trumpet

16’ Double Trumpet (Sw)

16’ Waldhorn (Sw)

8’ Trombone

8’ Tuba Mirabilis (Ch)

8’ Trumpet (Sw)

8’ Waldhorn (Sw)

4’ Trombone

4’ Waldhorn (Sw)

Festival Trumpet is mounted in the ceiling

8’ Harp on Antiphonal*

8’ Harp on Great*

Zimbelstern*

* Walker Technical Company, 1997, 2013

Platinum: Stephen Williams Plays the Organ of St. John\'s Luthean Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania
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