Carol Williams "Maid in China"
CD Review by Ralph Beaudry

Although political relations between the United States and China have been somewhat rocky in recent months, it's encouraging to realize our cultural relations scem to be growing stronger all the time. Despite there not being a tradition of organ music in China, when Beijing's new ForEidden City Concert Hall was planned, provision was made for a magnificent three-manual Austin pipe organ (Opus 2779) with 53 speaking stops. Yes, the Concert Hall is actually inside the walls of the Forbidden City, adjacent to Tinamen Square and the Zhongshan Gardens! The organ's impressive casework (on a platform 12 feet above center stage) is pictured on the alLum's cover and the specifications are included in the liner notes. Additional photos and details about the organ can be found in the cover story of The American Organist for November 2000.

British organist Carol Williams (whose classical and "pop" albums have been reviewed in these pages-most recently her Just Rags CD in the September, 2000 issue,) who now resides in the United States, was the artist selected to play the organ's inaugural concerts in April 2000. The first concert presented bath the organ and Beijing Symphony Orchestra while the second was a soloorgan performance. Seven of this 71 minute CD's 17 tracks were made during the live performances (we've indicated these with an asterisk after the selection title) and the balance were recorded soon thereafter. Carol's liner notes tell us "... (B)ecause there is no organ tradition in China, it was difficult to select music that would be suitable for such a historic occasion and at the same time be acceptable to audiences who had not previously savored music played on the King of Instruments." Carol's fascinating choice of compositions runs the gamut from J. S. Bach to Jerry Herman with a surprising variety of musical styles. Some are the usual well loved "showcase standards"-but there are also a welcome number of fascinating pieces from some rarely heard 20th Century composers.

After the resonant stroke of a Chinese gong Carol's program opens with "the remorselessly buoyant" but inevitable "Toccata" from Widor's Fifth Symphony. *Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925) wrote his challenging "Etude Symphonique"* to demonstrate an organist's pedal virtuasity and that it does! The next two selections were written by Bach in the early 1700s. First is his languorously melodic "Aria" from the Suite in D, which often, but somewhat erroneously, is called the "Air on the G String"- because one violinist decided he could play the whole piece on the lowest (G) string of his instrument! The other is his delightful "Fuga Sopra" (a melodious or light fugue) from the Magnificant BWV 733. A quite modern but completely fascinating "Toccata" by Gavin Stevens (b. 1962) is next and then Carol plays "El Flautista Alagre" by Ramon Noble (b. 1925) which her notes quite accurately describe as ". . . a markedly gently (flute) composition from South America... that is singularly beautiful."

Although he's better known for his majestic orchestral works, Jean Sibelius' "Intrada" (written in 1925) is described as"... an ideal work (for) showing the grandeur of this Austin organ." Indeed it does! Carol's next piece comes from a suite for wind instruments and was originally titled "Prince of Denmark's March." Today we know it better as Jeremiah Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary."* Although he was world famous as a concert organist in the early 20th Century, Lynnwood Farnam wrote only this one piece for the organ. It's his quite brief but thrilling "Toccata on O Filli et Filiae." Lefebure-Wely (1817-1869) not only was a fine organist (serving for years at the Madeleine and then St. Sulpice churches in Paris) but an inventive composer who delighted in writing in unusually rhythmic, virtually theatrical, styles! His "Bolero de Concert" has a slow, seductive rhythm based on the Spanish dance said to have been invented by Sebastian Gerezo about 1780!

Boellman's familiar, fiery "Toccata"* from his Suite Gothique precedes one of the most delightfully surprising selections we've ever found on a classical organ disc. It's David Hellewell's recently composed jazzy "Land of Fire"* with its charmingly rhythmic, completely captivating melodies! In contrast is the warm, rich Richard Purvis arrangement of "Greensleeves." Despite the fact he wrote over 200 songs, suites, operettas and symphonic poems, John Philip Sousa is best known for his 136 marches! Next is one of his best and it's one of many he wrote by request! "The Washington Post March" was composed for the awards ceremony following an essay contest sponsored by The Washington Post newspaper!

A footnote:

Although it may be stretching serendipity to its limits, in this issue are reviews of a classical CD made on the new Austin organ in Beijing, China and a new theatre organ album with the title Xanadu. AND, at the time those reviews were being written, the National Geographic Magazine (June 2001) published an article about Marco Polo's trip to China in the late 13th Century. That article points out specifically that Polo visited with Genghis Khan's grandson "... in Shangdu (also known as Xanadu), the sumptuous summer capital of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, and... to the new city Kublai was building-Daidu, today part of Beijing."

Another "American original" is next. Scott Joplin wrote, as critic Jim Svejda says,"... the subtle, infectious, endlessly inventive music... (which), in essence, transformed the musical wallpaper of (the) turn of the century... into a high and distinctively American art." Carol plays Joplin's "The Entertainer" and continues with an equally attractive version of Jerry Herman's ever-popular "Hello, Dolly."* From the live concert with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tan Lihua, is the glorious "Finale"* the maestoso-allegro movements of Saint-Saen's" Third Organ Symphony.

Bejing's new concert hall is obviously a spacious, hard surfaced room in which the Austin organ comes off as warm and rich in tone and it has a remarkable clarity. Ms Williams' wide range of music in this program is completely satisfying and Alfred Buttler's recording (with assistance from Bill Greenwood and mastering by Jim Stemke) is excellent. Classical organ buffs will certainly find it to be a listening delight.

Review courtesy of the Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society