Organ-ic Liszt

3 of 5 stars

Liszt
Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam
Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H

Nicholas Kynaston
Royal Albert Hall Organ

Recorded in 1968 as part of Cathedral Recordings’, Great Organs series.


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: January 2024
CD No: Base2 Music: CD, PCM and DSD512 from NativeDSD.com: SKU 00015
Duration: 44:02

Being a niche market there have always been specialist organ labels, such as Cathedral Recordings, who taped these performances at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968 featuring the 27 year old Nicolas Kynaston, whose 1970s CFP LP of Great Organ Works (also recorded at the Royal Albert Hall) sold well-over 100,000 copies.  And while traditionally reviews say more about the performances, here the sound takes precedence.

In Ad nos, ad salutarem undam when the massive opening statement of the theme relaxes at 1.27, the trill in the semi-quaver run is indistinct, like many others, Kynaston takes the legato marking to mean slower and allows the tension to drop. This happens throughout the work, which is particularly unfortunate in the extended central Adagio, where for all of the superb ppp effects Kynaston creates; there is no sense of line and the Fugue sounds tired. 

The Prelude (or Fantasia) and Fugue is better, having more impetus, but the interpretive flair Alfred Brendel brings to the piano version (Philips) is absent. In fairness, I should add that many organs fans love slow, massive performances and they may well be delighted with Kynaston’s approach. 

The sound though is stunning. David Woodford of Cathedral Records used a mere two AKG C12A valve microphones to capture the image on two-track tape. To place this in context, the Royal Albert Hall’s almost circular auditorium holds over 5,000 people, is 41 meters high and in 1968 the mushroom like acoustic diffusers hadn’t been fitted, so there was loads of echo. Back then the organ had four manuals, over 9.000 pipes and 146 stops 

Jake Purches – himself an organ scholar – of Base2 Music used the original tapes to create an unedited DSD128 digital master, from which the DSD512 used for review derives. The dynamic range is huge, from pppp to ffff. The reverberation time exceptionally well-controlled, the overall balance perfect, clarity and definition are exemplary and everything sounds completely right and natural, which is what you would expect from state-of-the-art analogue sound.

The only downsides are a small amount of tape-hiss, but the ear soon filters this out and if you have neighbours it might be best to wait until they have gone out before playing this at a decent volume level and check for cracks in the plaster after and the running time is very short, but this often happens with analogue-to-digital audiophile transfers, where suitable fill-ups are difficult to find.  

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