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The American Symphonic Organ | Cincinnati Museum Center

Recording : Brillant Classics 94233

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Program of the CD:

Original Organ transcriptions

1. Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Cathédrale Engloutie from Preludes (Book 1, No. 10)

2. Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Asturias (Leyenda ) from Suite Española, Op. 47

3. Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune

4. Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Six Rumanian Folk Dances Sz 56, BB 68
Joc cu nâta (Dance with Sticks) - Bräul (Waistband Dance) - Pe loc (Stamping Dance) - Buciumeana (Hormpipe Dance) - Poarga romaneasca and Maruntel (Polka and Quick Dance)

5. George BIZET (1838-1875)
Entr'Acte (Act II) from Carmen

6. Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Adagio for strings Op. 11

7. Sergueï RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3, No.2

8. Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Urlicht « Sehr feierlich aber schlicht. Choralmässig » from Symphonie No. 2 (Resurrection)
Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano

Organ works

9. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H

10. Jean-Baptiste ROBIN (b. 1976)
Extracts from Cercles Réfléchissants (Reflecting Circles)
No. 7: Cercles Lointains (Distant Circles)

About this recording :

In 2007, after giving a couple of recitals in Cincinnati, I went to the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal to see the organ there. Little did I know the impact it would have on my career. The instrument, its pipes discreetly concealed in chambers around the perimeter of the immense rotunda of the station, is one of America's best symphonic organs and a type I'd never come across before, a completely revamped version of the traditional pipe organ that existed in Europe.
Ernest M. Skinner, its maker, did more than build on the heritage of organ building: he also invented an entirely new, orchestral, kind of instrument, with new stops (including the French Horn, invented in 1912, and the Flûte Triangulaire of 1924/25) and an almost perfect dynamic spectrum from the softest pianissimo to the most powerful fortissimo, all the while maintaining a remarkably homogenous tonal quality. In earlier instruments, such as those built by Cavaillé-Coll in France, the separation between the different divisions is more evident.
In putting the final touches to the kind of symphonic organ initially developed by Willis, Walcker and so many others, Skinner can be compared to Richard Strauss, who gave Romanticism a final flourish in the late 1940s. The Parisian composer and organist Louis Vierne wrote to Skinner in 1927, "You are the greatest organ builder of our time", and later claimed, "If I had been able to play an organ like this when I was young, it would have entirely changed the character of my music." His fellow Frenchmen Marcel Dupré and Joseph Bonnet were equally astonished by Skinner's instruments. In Europe today, organists and music lovers are no longer familiar with these extraordinary instruments, which were so admired by previous generations and which represent both the golden age of organ building in America and the high point of the symphonic organ as first developed in Europe - my hope is that this album will play a part in winning them a wider audience. Instruments like these are more than organs - they are not orchestras, of course, but lie somewhere between the two.
Most of the works on this recording are either unpublished transcriptions or pieces on which the Cincinnati organ sheds an entirely new light. My experiences as a composer and orchestrator have led me to treat the art of registration as I would orchestral instrumentation, focussing on colour, mass effects, the different characters of the five divisions located around the rotunda in which the audience sits, and the balance between their five swell boxes.
The Museum Center's six-second reverberation and the monumental nature of the instrument inspired me to come up with an organ version of Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, from the Préludes for piano (1909-13). The opening chords evoke the depths of the sea and resound beautifully from the core of the Skinner organ. The chiming bells in the piano score ring out perfectly on its bell stops. Chords rise out of the mist on the Vox Humana stops, then the majestic cathedral itself gradually emerges. After a decrescendo portraying the incoming tide, a solemn solo on the French Horn stop has a melody that calls medieval music to mind, and the chords that follow depict the cathedral sinking slowly back beneath the waves.
Albéniz's 1892 piano piece Asturias (Leyenda) is one of the most emblematic works of his native Spain (a country which, incidentally, was a source of fascination to Debussy). It is also one of the most frequently adapted pieces of music ever written, and I therefore felt it was perfectly acceptable to add an organ transcription to those that already exist for guitar and for orchestra.
Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1892-94) brings out the pure tones, solo stops and chamber-music colours of the Skinner organ. The instrument?s full Impressionist palette is brought to the fore here, painting this striking late 19th-century work in fresh hues that complement the original orchestral writing. The organ adaptation seemed so natural that I?ve since performed it all over the world.
Along with Debussy, Bartók was one of the early 20th century's most revolutionary composers. The Cincinnati organ inspired me to bring some lighter, more exotic sonorities to his Romanian Dances Sz56.
After the splendid "pre-Impressionist" Act II entr'acte from Bizet's Carmen, in which the Skinner organ's Corno di Bassetto and Clarinet stops sound wonderful, I wanted to make the most of the instrument's grand, romantic sonorities.
In this version of Barber's Adagio for strings (1938), only the 16 and 8 stops are heard. The swell boxes enable the organist to create some astonishing textures that bring to mind a kind of reimagined string orchestra.
In the fourth movement, Urlicht, of Mahler's Second Symphony (1888-94), the organ plays a supporting role. The mezzo-soprano is the star here, supported by a kind of gentle fanfare on the organ's reed stops.
In homage to Louis Vierne, I was keen to create my own transcription of a work he also adapted for the organ: Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor. Composed in 1892 when the 19-year-old
Rachmaninov was setting out on his career as a piano virtuoso, this is one of the most famous preludes in the history of music. My aim here was to make the most of the incredible dynamics of the Cincinnati organ, even in the larger divisions, and the decrescendo on the third note provides the perfect illustration of the dynamic progressions possible on this instrument.
I wanted to round off the album with music written expressly for organ. Liszt's celebrated Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H (1870) puts the concert organ and its powerful and profound sonorities centre-stage. Transcribed by the composer for piano in 1871, the Fantasy gives the organist great freedom in terms of both performance and registration. For the Cincinnati organ I chose to employ a majestic approach and include plenty of contrast. Certain combinations are unique, particularly the use of the "Vox Humana" stops in the section following the fugue that conjures up Dante's Inferno, a work so close to Liszt's heart.
Finally, we come to the seventh and last movement of my Cercles Réfléchissants (2007-08), adding a contemporary note to the programme. This two-part work introduces two contrasting themes that become increasingly powerful and begin to superimpose themselves onto each other. After a flamboyant tutti, the music gradually fades away over thematic reminiscences of both this and the preceding six movements.
Jean-Baptiste Robin


« The opening notes of the Rachmaninoff and the Liszt will test the limits of your speakers. ...This disc is a must for organ fanciers,?, and it can be enthusiastically recommended to anyone curious to hear what these works might sound like in expert organ transcriptions.»
Raymond Tuttle/Fanfare

« In the central hall, the rotunda, is a symphonic organ by Ernest M. Skinner, the man Vierne who in 1927 wrote, "You are the greatest builder of our time." ....Robin is not only a brilliant player, but composes and orchestrates too. ... It is truly fascinating to hear how orchestral music can sound on such an organ. ...Until recently, we in Europe could only dream of such a Rolls Royce of organs..."
Dick Sanderman/Orgelnieuws

« The sound is warm, round, sometimes distant, mysterious, like a kind of marvelous magma that reveals an incredible message.»
Frédéric Munoz/Resmusica

« The stunning organ, housed in a space with a six-second reverberation, is the perfect complement to the brilliant transcriptions that Jean-Baptiste brings to life. Thrilling, driving, demanding, amusing, and energetic - This music has to be heard to be believed. Astounding!»
Jonathan Dimmock/The journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

« These transcriptions work ...amazingly well ... thanks to Robin's clarity of purpose and restraint in choosing the right sounds (registrations). This is big-organ performance at its most expressive and tasteful - yet still packing a sonic punch that raises goosebumps.»
John Terauds/Musical Toronto

Disposition of the Organ at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal :

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
E. M. Skinner Organs Opus 660 & 726, Boston, MA
IV manuals: 61 notes, Pedal: 32 notes, 79 ranks, electro-pneumatic action.

I. Choir enclosed (6 WG)
8 Concert Flute
8 Gamba
8 Dulciana
8 Unda Maris
4 Flute d'Amore
2 Piccolo
16 Bassoon (9 ½' WG)
8 Clarinet
8 Harp (unit with Celesta)
4 Celesta
Chimes 25 notes

II. Great enclosed (6 WG)
16 Bourdon (Pedal Bourdon + 17 P)
8 First Diapason
8 Second Diapason
8 Claribel Flute
4 Flute
4 Octave
2 Fifteenth
III Mixture
8 Tromba
4 Clarion*
Chimes (Choir)

III. Swell enclosed (7 ½ WG)
16 Bourdon
8 Diapason
8 Rohrflute
8 Salicional
8 Voix Celeste
8 Flauto Dolce
8 Flute Celeste
4 Flute Triangulaire
4 Octave
2 Fifteenth
V Mixture
16 Waldhorn
8 Cornopean
4 Clarion
8 Oboe d'Amour
8 Flugelhorn
8 Vox Humana

IV. Solo enclosed (10' WG)
8 Flauto Mirabilis
8 Gross Gamba
8 Gamba Celeste
8 French Horn
8 Corno d'Bassetto
8 Tuba Mirabilis (22' WG)
4 Tuba Clarion
8 Harmonic Tuba
16 Tuba Profunda*

IV. Antiphonal enclosed (7 ½' WG)
16 Flute (16, 8, 4 unit flute)
8 Concert Flute
8 Unda Maras (2 rk)
8 Voix Celeste (2 rk)
8 Flute Celeste (2rk)
8 Cello Celeste (2rk)
Celeste ranks in above four stops can be turned off.
8 Diapason
8 Vox Humana
8 English Horn
8 Clarinet
8 French Horn
8 Trumpet
4 Clarion*
Harp (61 notes)
Chimes (20 notes)

Pedal enclosed
32 Bourdon 32', 16', 8'(unit) (6' WG)
16 Open Diapason 16', 8'(unit)(6' WG)
16 Echo Lieblich (Swell Bourdon duplex)
16 Violone 32 notes (6' WG)
32 Bombarde (Metal) (unit with 8' Tromba) (16 1/2' WG)
32 Bombarde (Wood) 32 notes, Located in Antiphonal (30 WG)**
16 Trombone 32 notes (13' WG)
16 Waldhorn (Swell duplex)
8 Tromba
Chimes (Choir)

Antiphonal Pedal enclosed

16 Violone 16' (7 ½ WG)
16 Lieblich Gedeckt (from 16', 8', 4' manual unit flute) (7 ½ WG)
16 Bourdon 32 notes (5' WG)

* A.R. Schopp's Sons
**Built at Cincinnati Museum Center

Pipe chamber placement:
On the left: Antiphonal, Solo, Great/Pedal
On the right: Choir, Swell
Expression shoe arrangement:
Antiphonal, Great/Pedal, Choir, Swell, Solo, Cresc.
All boxes on the Swell
Replay System