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For centuries, Vienna’s St Stephan’s Cathedral has cultivated a strong musical tradition and to glance at the list of musicians linked to the cathedral’s history we discover Paul Hofhaimer, Johann Pachelbel, Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Joseph Fux, Joseph and Michael Haydn, Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and Anton Bruckner, to cite only a few. As early as the fourteenth century, there are references to the use of multiple organs in the cathedral. In recent years (1991), a new fifty-five stop instrument was built in the south aisle but few people had expected that music would again be heard on the west gallery following a fire in 1945 which destroyed the previous instrument.
Everyone involved in advising on this project and in executing it saw it as a precondition to create a richly varied palette of colours that would be altogether unique. Over the course of several conversations the organ builder Wendelin Eberle, the leading tuner Stephan Niebler and cathedral organist Konstantin Reymaier agreed on a specification of 125 stops, which they presented to a committee which extended beyond the cathedral; members included also Olivier Latry, the titular organist at Notre-Dame, Paris, Thomas Trotter (England) and Mainz Cathedral organist Daniel Beckmann.
Behind the new organ’s tonal plan lies the symphonic tradition of organ-building. Nor have the acoustics of the cathedral been overlooked – the porous sandstone, the width of the Cathedral and the architecture’s many decorative elements which would simply absorb the sound. The result is an astonishingly powerful and versatile instrument with countless shades of colours that remain transparent and clearly audible. It is all this combined that makes the new organ so special.
The repertoire on this album has been selected to showcase the versatility of the new instrument. Symphonic works are heard alongside Baroque, and impressionist soundscapes of Sigfrid Karg-Elert are heard alongside the lighter Boléro de concert by Lefébure-Wély and arrangements of popular pieces by John Williams. The programme is a fascinating interpolation of opposites, not only in what would first-hand appear diametrically opposing styles, but also in the textures and elements within the individual works – the tone colours, the contrasting rhythms, the nuanced instrumentation and the juxtaposition of leitmotifs. All of this, recorded in stunning 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos!