Damin Spritzer CD
Damin Spritzer is featured on a new recording, Organ Music of René Louis Becker, Volume 3, the Raven CD label (OAR-999). The music was recorded on the newly restored and enlarged 1938 Kimball organ, now of 113 ranks, at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral, Denver, Colorado. The CD is the first recording to include the entire organ, complete with antiphonal in the west gallery of the cathedral, as planned when the organ was built. In 1938, the console included drawknobs for an anticipated antiphonal division that was not installed until 2016.
Born and educated in Strasbourg, France, René Louis Becker (1882–1956), was a prolific Alsatian-American composer, teacher, and organist who worked 52 years in St. Louis, Illinois, and Michigan. The son of a prominent organist, Becker moved to the USA at age 21 in 1904, joining his two older brothers in St. Louis to operate a music conservatory there. Later, he primarily worked as a church musician and composer. Spritzer, who has written a monograph on Becker and is editor of his organ works being published by Wayne Leupold Editions, said, “I counted 529 scores in the family's collection of his works. More than 180 of the scores are for solo organ, and at least 70 organ works were published within the two decades 1908–1928 during Becker’s life.”
René Louis Becker attended the Strasbourg Conservatory for eight years, earlier having studied with his father, Edouard Becker (1838–1895), who was organist of the Church of Saint-Jean in Strasbourg, 1883–1895, and had been organist at Chartres Cathedral and the Strasbourg Cathedral in the 1860s and 1870s.
The ten works included on the third volume are first recordings. They include lyrical and colorful works as well as three processional marches, a toccata, and a hymn-based work, all exploring the original 96 ranks of the 1938 organ, still entirely intact, and the 17 ranks of the new antiphonal fashioned largely from pipes salvaged from a defunct Kimball organ.
Among Becker’s few works based upon Gregorian chant, the Postlude in F-sharp Major, op. 69d, is a toccata on the chant incipit bearing great similarity to the hymn tune HOUSTON (“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”). Sur la Rivière, op. 77b, dedicated to Edwin Lemare, is sumptuously melodic and an ideal vehicle for the remarkable strings and foundations of the organ, and features the French Horn in the Solo division. Meditation, op. 51, no. 5, is a classically inspired and lyrical piece engaging the Flauto Mirabilis in the Solo contrasted with the Swell Voix Humaine. The Allegro Risoluto in E Minor, op. 68b, is a crashing and dramatic piece that was premiered by Edwin Lemare in 1919 in Burlington, Iowa. It is recorded in Denver as a dialogue between the Tuba in the new antiphonal organ and the main organ in the nave.
In 2014, the second CD volume of Becker's organ works was released as recorded by Damin Spritzer on the restored 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ at Sainte-Croix Cathedral in Orléans, France. (Raven OAR-949, $15.98 postpaid worldwide). The first CD of Becker's works was released in 2011 and features the 1789 Isnard /1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ in Pithiviers, France (OAR-925, $15.98 postpaid).
The first two CDs received significant critical appreciation for bringing Becker's music to light as well as acclaim for Damin Spritzer's playing. Also noted has been the exemplary sound captured by recording engineer Christoph Martin Frommen of Korschenbroich, Germany, who also recorded in Denver.