A Russian Journey
The superb musicianship, masterly technique and programming savvy informing the American organist Gail Archer’s previous Meyer Media releases prevail throughout ‘A Russian Journey’. Of the two César Cui Preludes that open the disc, the G minor is the more interesting on account of its sombre countenance and slowly building climax. By contrast, Lyapunov’s Prelude pastorale has the restless chromaticism and subtle invention of Liszt’s finest organ works; its softer, lyrical sections showcase Archer’s ability to spin long yet well-defined legato lines.
Glazunov’s D minor Prelude and Fugue (actually two fugues) begins with a rather anonymous and generic chordal section that could have been written by 30 possible composers. But once the counterpoint kicks in, Glazunov’s harmonic sophistication catapults to the foreground. Archer clearly revels in the codetta’s massive sonorities; in her excellent booklet notes, she associates them with the sound of Russian Orthodox male choirs, but I liken these pages to ‘Reger on steroids’! It says a lot for Sergey Slominsky’s fluent organ-writing that his Toccata’s busy textures never clutter, yet I find his consistent use of bitonality more fatiguing than challenging to absorb.
Archer’s attraction to the poignant melodies and modal leanings of Alexander Schawersaschwili’s Prelude and Fugue is well justified and makes me want to explore his music further. The Hungarian organist/composer Zsigmond Szathmáry’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain mirrors Rimsky-Korsakov’s reorchestration to brilliant effect, while throwing all kinds of technical hurdles at the organist. Archer’s sweeping assurance and stamina enable you to hear the music behind the virtuosity.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the colourful 53-rank Schlicker organ at St Joseph Church in Macon, Georgia, clearly and vividly reproduced via Andreas K Meyer’s production.