Robert Noehren died on August 4 in San Diego, California, at
the age of 91. (See "Nunc Dimittis," The Diapason, September 2002, p.
8.) International recitalist, recording artist, author, scholar, professor and
university organist at the University of Michigan, and organbuilder, Noehren
enjoyed a long and remarkable career, and was clearly one of the major figures
of our profession in the 20th century.
His many recordings and recitals evidenced a special kind of
organ playing: the highest standards of musicianship, devoid of superficial
excesses, quiet and controlled console manner; indeed, his technique seemed to
become quieter and easier the more difficult and virtuosic the music became. He
continued to practice the organ daily and record up until his death, carried on
extensive correspondence, had plans for another commercial recording on his
organ in Buffalo, was preparing a talk for the AIO convention this month, was
working on a cookbook of his favorite recipes, and continued to enjoy music,
art, fine wine, good food, and friends from all over the world.
Below follow tributes in Noehren's honor, by William
Osborne, Bunker Clark, and Haig Mardirosian, and a review by Ronald Dean of
Noehren's Bach CD which was released last year, in addition to a listing of his
articles and news releases as featured in The Diapason. Requiescat in pace.
Robert Noehren: A Remembrance
When Jerry Butera, Ron Dean and I shared a meal during the
Organ Historical Society gathering in Chicago on the final day of June, we
regaled ourselves with tales about and from the man who had had such a seminal
influence on us and a host of others, assuming that he would endure virtually
forever, little anticipating the shocking news of his sudden death only weeks
later. He had suffered the loss of his devoted wife only months earlier, but on
the evidence of telephone conversations had seemed quickly to reconcile himself
to this new phase of his incredibly rich life, determined to get on with his
latest passions, energetically practicing daily at age ninety-one on his
electronic [sic!] house organ, wrestling with what he could possibly say to a
conclave of pipe organ builders in Los Angeles during an upcoming invited
lecture, listening intently to CDs drawn from his immense collection, having
been recently attracted particularly to the playing of pianist Ivo ogorelich.
A consummate man of the organ, he was nonetheless not
preoccupied with the instrument, always fascinated by a wide range of human
understanding. For example, when
the Noehrens made the decision to relocate to suburban San Diego after a
particularly harsh Ann Arbor winter, the significant tragedy of their transfer
was a wayward moving van stranded in the desert heat of the Southwest, a delay
that turned the man's substantial and valuable wine collection to vinegar. I
suspect that in retrospect he might have preferred to express himself through a
medium other than the organ, since he was constantly dissatisfied with so many
examples of the instrument, especially his inability to make music on them to
his satisfaction. In fact, he suggested that his students could learn more
about elegant music-making by observing a fine singer, violinist or pianist,
and, when time permitted, he practiced Chopin or Debussy at the piano, although
never in public.
It seems a bit incredible that he retired from studio
teaching at the University of Michigan more than four decades ago, and that at
least a few of his students have preceded him in death. I, for one, found him a
rather reluctant pedagogue. When provoked, he could be enormously enthusiastic
and insightful, but one had to work to attract his attention. He loved to tell
a story that he attributed to George Faxon, but which I suspect was meant to
mirror his own predicament. Supposedly Faxon had in his Boston studio a very
comfortable upholstered chair where he ensconced himself as he directed a
student to play straight through a big Bach prelude and fugue. As the piece
proceeded, he would brush the lint off his jacket, adjust his shoelaces, settle
back, and gradually fall completely asleep. The student, having finished his
performance, would turn expectantly, at which point Faxon would suddenly rouse
himself and blurt out: "Bravo! Play it again!"
Robert Noehren also frustrated and even infuriated many in a
profession rife with calcified credos by remaining in a constant condition of
quest. I joked that it was impossible to ride a Noehren bandwagon because, as
his would-be disciples were clambering on one side, he had already jumped off
the other and moved on to some new position. Recall the man's seminal role in
the organ Renaissance in this country. He was one of the first to study the
classic European instruments to the extent that he was able to understand and
explain what made the instruments of Schnitger and Cavaillé-Coll tick.
Those of us privileged to experience his organ design course can vouch for that
wisdom. It was also Robert Noehren who was crucial in bringing to this country
in 1957 that groundbreaking von Beckerath instrument in Cleveland's Trinity
Lutheran Church. I can remember driving from Ann Arbor to Cleveland in a
snowstorm to experience the incredible revelations that it offered. So, how did
a man devoted to the principles the Beckerath manifested become a builder of
instruments based on direct electric action and incredible amounts of borrowing
and duplexing? Hard to say, except to acknowledge that he later pretty much
disavowed that facet of his career, although expressing annoyance over those
attempts to redress some of the mechanical problems he bequeathed the
instruments' owners. He did assert that his foray into organ building resulted
from his failure to find an established builder who was willing put his ideals
into practice. Recall also that the best of his instruments were and are ones
of distinction, and that he was a pioneer in considering the possibility of
computer-driven combination systems, even though the clunky, punchcard system
that he and a Michigan Engineering colleague devised seems hopelessly
Even though he has left us physically, his legacy will
surely survive in the form of his immense discography and the many provocative,
sometimes quixotic writings published in this journal and elsewhere.
What will survive as well for those of us privileged to know
him is the memory of a man with a generous sense of humor (I will never forget
the look on his face when asked in a studio class by a pompous doctoral student
how one properly mounts the bench); an immense, eclectic repertory (e. g., as I
recall, virtually nobody on this side of the Atlantic was aware of Tournemire
when Noehren began to champion the man); an intense musicality at his chosen
instrument that nonetheless refused curtailment by any of the various
performance "isms" by which the profession lives (Furthermore, I, as
one who was privileged to assist him often, for example in the series of sixteen
all-Bach programs he played in Hill Auditorium before such marathons became
fashionable, was always amazed that, while he advocated marking scores
extensively, he always seemed to play from pages untouched by a pencil.); an
incredible range of experiences (e. g., as a young church organist in Buffalo
being asked to play the two existing Hindemith sonatas for their composer,
thereby indirectly provoking the writing of the last of the trilogy); a man of
immense principle who retired from active teaching prematurely when confronted
with a Michigan dean who asked him to create the country's largest organ
department (he seems to have been prescient enough to have anticipated the
future state of the profession and thus suggested as an alternative the
country's finest, albeit compact organ program); and, last, but hardly least,
the sense that organists are all too often insular in their perspective,
encouraging all with whom he was associated to seek out and embrace the
full range of human experience.
RN, we will miss you.
From his editor
"Gee, it's hard to play the organ, isn't
it?"--cliché by Robert Noehren after hearing a student trying to
play a difficult piece.
"Gee, it's hard to produce a book about the
organ"--my cry in the process of working with Bob on An Organist's
Bob had been talking about doing a book for some years, but
I'm proud of persuading him to begin in earnest in 1995. He sent a box two
years later, and after two more years of phone calls and letters concerning the
details, the box was sent to Harmonie Park Press in February 1997, and the
result appeared in November 1999.
I'd known Bob since going to Ann Arbor in 1950, but after my
piano days unfortunately never took organ with him. Nonetheless, I was lucky to
audit several of his classes on the history of the organ--which, in retrospect,
helped considerably in checking details of historic instruments. Even then, it
was embarrassing to both of us to have a good friend point out the omission of
thirteen pedal stops from the 1576 organ of the Georgenkirche, Eisenach. (Harmonie Park Press has an
errata slip, or get it at
But this omission had not been discovered when that article had previously been
published in the Riemenschneider Bach Institute's Bach no fewer than three
times, 1975, 1985, and 1995! It's only logical that an organ associated with
Bach would have more than two pedal registers, no?
He correctly defended Grobgedackt, against my proposal of
Großgedackt. As for another detail, does one use the modern German
"K" for Katharinenkirche, or the original spelling Catharinenkirche,
Hamburg? (we used the latter). Lüdingworth has an umlaut; otherwise it
would seem to be a village in England. So does the composer Jean-Jacques
Grünenwald, even though he was French. The foregoing represents a survey
of some 54 pages of letters on my computer, which also has comments on a trip
to Italy; Eloise's new hip, fall 1997; and his bout with cancer, early 2000.
I had attended many of his Ann Arbor recitals, and have seen
the two-story end of the Noehren living room in Ann Arbor which housed his
Hausorgel. But Lyn and I really got to know Bob much better when he taught at
the University of Kansas, fall 1975; we had Thanksgiving and several other similar occasions together. What a wonderful human being! I already miss our more recent phone chats, in which he described his interest in a proper diet
(indeed, published as an article in these pages last year), in our mutual
enjoyment of a pre-dinner drink, his interest in audio equipment and recent
recordings (usually not of organ music), and in a joke. And I miss his
Christmas cards (the design of one is on the cover of his book).
Bob Noehren was very modest--but a hard worker when
preparing a recital. He was not vain, but I'm certain he was very proud of the
discography and recitals (a representation of programs appears in his book).
Above all, in spite of and perhaps due to, his quiet and unassuming manner, his
playing never highlighted the performer, but always the music, as if to say
"I've studied this piece hard, and here is what I found out."
--J. Bunker Clark
Letters from Noehren
I never met Robert Noehren, yet I am humbled to be able to
call him a friend. In the last three years of his life, Noehren and I had
corresponded regularly through a series of letters, a thread of correspondence
initiated somewhat coincidently.
In my academic administrative capacity, I was at work during
1997 with a project team charged with drafting a self-study report to my
university's regional accrediting agency. Our member from the university's
publications office, Trudi Rishikoff, saw to the style and editing of the
finished document. At some stage of the process, Trudi mentioned that she had
learned that I was an organist. Did I know her Uncle Bob?
Uncle Bob, it turned out, was Robert Noehren. With what must
have been obvious mirth at this serendipitous news, I told Trudi of my high
esteem for Noehren, the thrill of having played a recital on one of his
instruments, the honor of having reviewed several of his recordings for both
The American Organist and Fanfare, but even more, of the inspiration that I had
derived from listening to him perform, both on disc and live, early in my
career. I asked Trudi to convey those sentiments and my kindest respects to her
About the same time, my editors forwarded for review a CD
comprising reissues of various Lyrichord recordings by Robert Noehren. These
amounted to seminal performances on several of his instruments (as well as
others) and an assortment of repertoire attesting to the performer's
all-embracing musical interests. The disc merited its title, "A Robert
Months later, a long letter arrived from Robert Noehren, the
first of many in which we discussed issues of mutual interest--musicians,
repertoire, organs. Noehren's beautifully composed and printed texts (for
openers, I marveled at the deliberate care in writing these and his obvious
fluency at computing, something quite remarkable for a man about to turn 90).
The composition and printing mirrored what one heard in his meticulous
musicianship and performance. His critical but calculated opinions about music
matched his gifted and insightful interpretation of music. His thoughts about
the music and musicians of his early years in particular bespoke his own
deference to tradition, origins, and lineage in composition, organ building,
and pedagogy. In sum, these letters represented valedictory notes to a new
friend, but they were frank, surprisingly modest, and very generous in tone and
spirit. Noehren, it turned out, had wanted to contact me for some time and he
had done his research too. He had gone out and found recordings by his
correspondent and he had closely read any number of reviews of books and
recordings. He was sizing me up!
I had just released a recording of the Suite for Organ
Maleingreau, he observed that "it [the toccata] is such a fine work and no
one else seems to be interested in Maleingreau." A second little
coincidence had sealed a friendship. With that our correspondence grew more
personal as well with talk about his wife Eloise, and illness, and aging. He
was very sympathetic and supportive at my family's story of senior care, and
the intellectual and physical changes brought on with age.
A major part of our conversations concerned organs. For two
years, Noehren and I exchanged many words on organ design, organ building, and
organ builders. I had made the analytical (but not malicious!) observation in
my review of his Lyrichord recording that certain of the organs he built were
idiosyncratic. My observation was based on experience. I had played a recital
at St. John's Cathedral in Milwaukee where, in preparation, I had spent hours
punching out registrations manually on the IBM data cards that comprised the
combination action's memory. I had also remarked on the various subunison
registers that played only to tenor C. Noehren graciously observed that
"It was right for you to comment on the design of my organ in Milwaukee." He continued with a treatise on the economics of organ building, tight budgets, and resource maximization. It may have been a musician/instrument builder speaking, but it was also the voice of someone who had taught at a university and worked for the church!
Noehren tempered economic exigency with art. "I
designed the organ [at St. John's Cathedral] always thinking how it was to be
used musically." Saving the cost of the bottom twelve pipes of the Great
16¢ Principal on that 1965 organ allowed Noehren to add a string and some
mutations to the specification. "If . . . you look at the music of Vierne,
you will often see that the Gambe on the Great Organ is required in many
pieces. . . . Look at most American organs. There is rarely a string on either
the Great or Positiv (or Choir) organs. Indeed, there is usually an Unda Maris
set. To be sure, a beautiful sound, but not very useful in much serious organ
music." He questioned both his own tonal choices and those advocated by
others. Robert Noehren had taken this critic earnestly, drew no offense from
the opinions in print, and used the opportunity to engage in a dialog on the
merits of respective tonal choices.
I later asked Noehren about Paul Hindemith, adding that my
own conception of the organ sonatas was formed mainly through Noehren's
recording of them. That prompted a meticulous response concerning Noehren's
association with the composer. He outlined meeting Hindemith in Buffalo, where
the composer lived after arriving in the United States before going to teach at
Yale University, and where the organist played at a small Episcopal parish.
Because Hindemith would sometimes visit the church, Noehren eventually got to
know the composer well. They spent many hours together discussing
interpretation and registration of the then only two sonatas, for Hindemith had
just begun composing the third.
I had commented about the respective merits of romantic,
colorist and dryer, abstract interpretations of the sonatas. In fact, I told
Noehren that I had rebelled against my own teacher's insistence on an
orchestral approach to these scores. That rebellion led to my style="mso-spacerun: yes"> willful imitation of Noehren's old LP
recording. He replied, "Like your teacher, I had been playing them in a
rather romantic way, and I have to thank Hindemith for helping me with my
musicianship during those early days. I still remember how dissatisfied he was
with my performance of the last movement of the first sonata."
Noehren also voiced curiosity about instruments on which I
had recorded and consulted. I had asked him about a couple of stoplists on
which I was working and received immediate, candid, and helpful responses. At
the time, the new organ at my own parish, the Church of the Ascension and Saint
Agnes in Washington, was under construction by Orgues Létourneau. I had
confided in Noehren that our hope was for an instrument reflecting English
tonal heritage and had sent him specs and scalings. In the end, when I sent him
a recording of one of the opening concerts, his approval overjoyed me.
What was most remarkable about Robert Noehren in his last
few years was the zeal with which he still played the organ on a daily basis.
He had been hard at work revisiting the Orgelbüchlein style='font-style:normal'>, a book he felt "appropriate at my stage of
life." He had just been diagnosed with serious illness and seemed to find
particular comfort in the brief movements. But, he acknowledged their musical
difficulties. "I might feel a bit safer in the great G-minor fugue than in
the prelude on 'Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn' with that wicked pedal passage
at the end!"
While he missed access to a good pipe organ near his home in
San Diego, he did own a custom electronic organ, and his curiosity and aptitude
with technology had led him to electronically revoice that instrument and add
several MIDI sound modules to it. This fulfilled both his need to play on a
daily basis and his ongoing instinct to build "better" organs. He was
carefully apologetic, but not defensive about this instrument. "I fear
that you might be one who believes we have been poisoned by the advent of the
electronic organ!" But, he added, that this instrument "assuages some
of my frustrations." As proof--extraordinary proof--he enclosed a cassette
recording of some Bach, Karg-Elert, and the Roger-Ducasse Pastorale style='font-style:normal'> as recorded on his house organ. Of the dazzling and
poetic performance of the latter piece, made when Noehren was in his late 80s,
he commented, "it is perhaps the most difficult work I have ever
encountered, and it has been a constant challenge. It is technically difficult
and choosing and executing the registration is no easy task." Of the
thousands of organ recordings in my collection, this one, performed by an
octogenarian on an electronic organ in his living room and recorded on his
little cassette machine, is the most prized.
Robert Noehren had also published a book of memoirs that I
had reviewed, and some of the letters to me may have well been an elaboration
or gloss on the book. At one point, Noehren sent a long list of all his
teachers--piano, organ, theory, composition. This early 20th century Who's Who
of our profession contained several names that interested me greatly.
One of these was Charles Courboin for, as a boy, I would sit
in the choir loft at St. Patrick's Cathedral and watch Dr. Courboin play for the
11:30 "organ mass." In those pre-Vatican II years, the Cathedral
maintained the tradition of a low mass (rendered mostly silently by the priest
at the east end) accompanied by organ music (rendered not at all silently by
the virtuoso at the west end). I would, on my own, take the bus and the subway
and travel down to 5th Avenue on Sunday mornings in order to hear the Solemn
Mass at 10 o'clock. I would always remain for Courboin's organ mass at 11:30.
It was a splendid dessert to the sung mass. Courboin would graciously welcome
me to the gallery and even ask me what I would like to hear. Courboin's
phenomenal memory was legendary and I don't ever recall naming a piece of
repertoire that he could not simply rattle off.
One of the reasons that Courboin fascinated us both was his
atypical profile for an organist. He loved fast cars and boats. He was dashing
and, in Noehren's terms, "could have been mistaken for a government
ambassador." While a student at the Curtis Institute during the early
1930s, Noehren had coached with Courboin. One morning, Noehren and his friend
Bob Cato, Lynnwood Farnam's favorite student, were walking downtown. They ran
into Courboin. "He behaved at once as if we were his best friends and
suggested we all have lunch at Wanamaker's. It was then about 11:00 o'clock,
and he invited us to meet him at noon at the front of the store. When we
finally entered the dining room it became apparent that the luncheon had turned
into a big party in a private room with at least 15 people. All I can remember
of the food is that for dessert there was a great flourish as the party was
presented with a huge baked Alaska prepared for the occasion."
Robert Noehren also recalled his meetings with Fernando
Germani (with whom he became friends and who introduced him to Italian food and
garlic), André Marchal (who influenced him musically but was
"distracted by the ladies," such that, in a meeting along with
Marilyn Mason, Marchal paid no attention to Noehren), Gaston Dethier (who had
the most formidable technique of anyone and whose pedaling was "really
phenomenal" although he eventually no longer took the organ seriously),
and Lynnwood Farnam (whose playing "simply put everyone I had ever heard
in the shade"). These reflections were all the more vivid as several of
these legendary performers were still active in my own youth. As Noehren put it
about our swapped recollections, "what a difference a generation
How does one summarize the enormous range and analytical
insights of Robert Noehren? It is difficult task to be certain. His musical
life spanned East Coast and West, with a long stop in between. He could be, at
once, a Classicist and a Romantic. He studied old music and old organs, built
modern instruments capable of playing the old, and championed scores by
composers of his own day. He was the recitalist who built instruments to
overcome the defects he perceived in the instruments upon which he had to play.
He studied with the legends of his youth and passed that tradition on to
generations of fortunate students in one of the country's most important
universities. He agglomerated seemingly far-flung and inconsistent concepts,
all the while making sense of their synthesis. His world was expansive and
never shrank, for his all-embracing curiosity disclosed an adroit mind that
slowed little even in its ninth decade. Robert Noehren zealously coveted the
truth--truth as discovered, revealed, debated, or developed in theory and
creativity. He grappled with and reconciled art and technology decades before
such would become commonplace. He generously communicated his remarkable
journey to a large audience in his writing and teaching, and even to a grateful
correspondent late in his days.
Can all of this, then, amount to anything less than the
absolute and comprehensive definition of professional and personal intellect,
art, and, above all, integrity? I would argue not. Integrity, furthermore,
takes courage, the courage to pursue truth and to assert the convictions to
which one's work leads. As such, Robert Noehren was nothing less than a genuine
hero. I thank God for having had a moment to know him. Requiescat in pace.
Robert Noehren bibliography in The Diapason
Robert Noehren is organist and choirmaster of St. John's
Church, Buffalo. November 1940, p. 22.
Robert Noehren takes up new work in Grand Rapids. September
1942, p. 3.
"Organ Building an Art Not to be Limited by Definite
Styles." February 1944, p. 12.
Robert Noehren leaves Grand Rapids for war duty. March 1944,
Famed Dutch Organ Used in Broadcast by Robert Noehren.
November 1948, p. 2.
"Poitiers Cathedral Has Famous Cliquot Organ Built in
1791." June 1949, pp. 28-29.
Noehren appointed to post in Ann Arbor. September 1949, p.
"Historic Schnitger Organs Are Visited; 1949 Summer Study."
December 1949, p. 10; January 1950, p. 10.
Bach recitals by Noehren in Ann Arbor and Buffalo. June
1950, p. 40.
"Famous Old Organs in Holland Disprove Popular
Fallacies." March 1951, pp. 8-9.
"Organ Cases Objects of Beauty in Past and Return Is
Advocated." June 1951, pp. 14-15.
Michigan "U" course reorganized to make all-around
organist. November 1951, p. 38.
"Schnitger Organs That Still Survive Teach New
Lessons." December 1951, p. 24.
Robert Noehren on fourth tour of recitals in Europe. September
1953, p. 17.
Robert Noehren is winner of prize for his recording.
November 1953, p. 1.
Robert Noehren to play in Duesseldorf. June 1954, p. 1.
"Commends Opinions of Dr. Schweitzer to Organ
Designers." February 1954, p. 22.
Robert Noehren is awarded doctorate. June 1957, p. 1.
"How do you rate? Test yourself on this final
exam." July 1959, p. 16.
"Music Dictates Good 2-Manual Organ Design."
September 1960, pp. 12-13.
Robert Noehren . . . Northwest regional convention. April
1961, p. 16.
Noehren to act as judge at Haarlem Competition. December
1962, p. 3
"The Relation of Organ Design to Organ Playing."
December 1962, pp. 8, 42-43; January 1963, pp. 8, 36-37.
Robert Noehren to give dedicatory recital on the Schlicker
organ at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. March 1963, p. 24.
"The Organ and Acoustics." March 1964, pp. 26-27.
"Architectural Acoustics as related to Church
Music." November 1964, pp. 40-41.
"Taste, Technique and Tone." April 1965, p. 49.
"Schnitger, Cliquot and Cavaillé-Coll: Three
Great Traditions and their Meaning to Contemporary Organ Playing."
November 1966, pp. 40-41; December 1966, p. 28; January 1967, pp. 48-49;
February 1967, pp. 44-45.
Robert Noehren appointed Rose Morgan Professor of Organ for
the fall semester of 1975 at The University of of Kansas. September 1975, p.
Robert Noehren, professor of organ at the University of
Michigan, retired in January 1976. June 1976, p. 2.
Robert Noehren named professor emeritus. January 1977, p. 5.
Robert Noehren elected Performer of the Year by New York
City AGO. May 1978, p. 19.
"Squire Haskin--a tribute." February 1986, p. 2.
"The discography repertoire of Robert Noehren."
March 1990, pp. 12-13.
"Robert Noehren at 80: A Tribute." December 1990,
"Organ Design Based on Registration." December
1991, pp. 10-11.
"A Reply to the Tale of Mr. Willis." January 1997,
Robert Noehren celebrates his 90th birthday. December 2000,
"Enjoying Life at 90." September 2001, pp. 15-17.
"Reflections on Life as an Organist." December
2001, pp. 17-20.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Organ Works. Robert Noehren,
Organist. Previous unreleased recordings from 1980 issued in celebration of
Robert Noehren's ninetieth birthday. Noehren organs of The Cathedral of Saint
John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and The First Presbyterian Church,
Buffalo, New York. Fleur de Lis FL 0101-2. Available from The Organ Historical
Society, P.O. Box 26811, Richmond, VA 23261; 804/353-9226; $14.98 plus
Program: Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor
style='font-style:normal'>, BWV 542; Wenn wir in höchsten
Nöthen sein, BWV 668; Wo
soll ich fliehen hin, BWV 646; Partita:
O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767; Partita:
Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, BWV
768; Fugue in G Major
("Gigue"), BWV 577; Prelude and Fugue in D Minor style='font-style:normal'> ("Violin"), BWV 539; Prelude and
Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543.
This new issue, like the previous Robert Noehren
Retrospective produced by Lyrichord (see this journal, December, 1999, p. 11),
is the result of expert remastering by Hal Chaney of analog recordings done on
tape many years ago. As in the CD mentioned above, this issue features organs
designed and built by Robert Noehren.
For those who are familiar with Noehren's tasteful and
flexible organ playing, this issue should come as a welcome addition to his
already considerable discography. Noehren was never one to endorse or follow
"trendy" or merely currently fashionable playing ideas; instead, he
always makes the music come alive through thoughtful application of scholarship
and study of the scores to determine both just the right tempos and appropriate
registrations for convincing musical communication. These features are in
abundance on this new issue.
Another important facet contributing to the pleasure of this
CD is the fact that the same person is both the artist and the organ builder.
His clearly articulated philosophy of organ tone (see An Organist's Reader style='font-style:normal'>, reviewed in this journal, September, 2000, p. 10)
is demonstrated here all the way from gutsy and brilliant (but never strident)
principal and reed choruses to subtle smaller ensembles and solo combinations
appropriate to the musical requirements. One can imagine that Noehren was able
to bring forth the very sounds that were in his "mind's ear" by performing
on these two rather large instruments of his own design.
All the pieces except for the two chorale partitas are
performed on the 1966 organ in the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in
Milwaukee, while the partitas show off the varied smaller ensembles and solo
combinations of the instrument in The First Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, built
in 1970. Both instruments are of similar size, with the Buffalo instrument
(somewhat larger) notable by its frequently pictured hanging Positiv division.
Seasoned players and students alike will be inspired by the
apparently effortless execution of the more demanding works and should take
note of the way Noehren uses subtle rubato to point up the structure of the
various forms. His elegant approach to trills and other ornaments reveal that
the artist regards these items as integral parts of musical expression and not
simply as whimsical and mechanical additions to the musical line.
Blessed with both an astounding playing technique and
impeccable musical taste, Robert Noehren's playing as revealed on this CD
should bring feelings of recognition to those who have head him in past years
and should also serve as a revelation to the younger generation. Highly
--Ronald E. Dean