Compact Disc: Dressler Plays the Paul Fritts Organ

Thomas Dressler Plays the Paul Fritts Organ

Thomas Dressler Plays the Paul Fritts Organ, Princeton Theological Seminary. Dressler and Gradin, 2012. Available from CD Baby, amazon.com, and amazon.co.uk. Includes color booklet with photos and notes.

First, you should know about Paul Fritts and his organ building philosophy. The most important thing to know is found on his web site: “All design work and construction of the thousands of components that make up an organ (except for the electric blowers and electronic pre-set systems) is done in-house from carefully selected raw materials.” The organ he built in 2000 for Princeton Theological Seminary’s Chapel is a world class instrument in a small room with rectangular walls and clear acoustics. Dressler wrote that he chose it and the literature on this recording because of the excellent match of organ and music; pieces include compositions by J S Bach, Buxtehude, Scheidt, and others. For more photos and specification, click on the photo at left to visit frittsorgan.com.

Dressler’s playing always puts the music first. With some performers, their style and excitement predominate, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but his musical “performance practice” adds the third leg to the stool of organ-and-music-and-performer. I have already listened to this CD three times already, so that should give you an idea of the level of repeated listening enjoyment you may expect. Some music throws you against the wall, as we used to say when I worked in a classical record department, and some opens the walls and allows you to relax and imbibe the sounds as you listen comfortably with a sense of the past always floating nearby. Guess which one this is.

I have a friend who abhors flexible winding. I like it. It seems natural to me, and when the music so closely fits the organ, it is a treasure. Some of you may have heard an organ with flexible winding wheeze when presented with enormous chords with many stops on. There was once such an organ in Princeton, and I remarked then that during the “Final” to the Vierne Sixth, it sounded like a circus calliope on its last wind. That organ is no longer in Princeton, and besides, it wasn’t intended for that kind of playing. Dressler’s program takes advantage of this historical novelty.

It’s a shame the room isn’t larger, but the recording (also managed by Dressler) makes the best of what there is. The room ambiance is well represented in the three systems I’ve used for listening: 5.1 Surround on a computer, Vandersteen 3As plus sub with Audio Research tube preamp, and a Toyota Prius car audio system. This is not a super hi-fi recording project, so MP3 downloads are just fine if that’s your listening choice. The color booklet, designed by another organist, Jonathan Gradin, is well done and clear and contains excellent notes on the organ, music, and artist.

I give Dressler’s Fritts Organ CD an unreserved recommendation. These days, the big labels have mostly abandoned organ music, and organists need and deserve our support. I can personally vouch for CD Baby as an excellent company that provides a fine product and pays the largest royalties to the artist. So, don’t be afraid to buy a few of these (at a big discount) and give them to friends, choir members, and AGO members.

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