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Alex Baran
The WholeNote, January 2010

His Tokyo recital recording follows his 2008 International Organ competition victory there. Curiously enough, the Japanese have proven to be an enthusiastic and well-financed market for new pipe organs. Numerous concert halls throughout Japan have contracted North American and European pipe organ builders to install instruments costing millions. Nobody is certain why Asian audiences have so passionately embraced a culturally foreign form of music, but it gives dwindling numbers of organ enthusiasts in the West reason to be grateful.

The instrument is by European builder Marcussen & Son. Its tonal design seems a careful balance between the brightly voice ranks needed for the recital program’s Buxtehude and Bach as well as the 19th–20th century French repertoire. The instrument’s scale reflects the desire to have a large and grand sound in the concert hall although one suspects the designers may have neglected to leave enough acoustic space in the hall to adequately blend the organ’s voices as cavernous churches do so well.

The treat in this recital is definitely Messiaen’s Dieu parmi nous (from La Nativité du Seigneur). Unger exploits the organ’s potential for colouristic effect and presents Messiaen with unreserved energy and brightness. The Gaston Litaize Prélude et danse fugeé is also a track worth hearing for its contemporary flavour.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Recorded immediately following Michael Unger’s success in the 2008 Musashino-Tokyo organ competition, where he took all of the major prizes. Born in Canada and a graduate from the University of Western Ontario, he has built up an impressive list of competitive successes. His chosen programme may well have served him in one of those events, as it is planned to show his range of musical affinities and techniques. Setting out with Dietrich Buxtehude’s Praeludium in E minor, it moves to the testing ground of three very differing works by Johann Sebastian Bach ending with the sizeable challenge of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor. Rhythmically secure, and with highly mobile pedal work, the urgent prelude leads to Unger’s rather lightweight fugue. Two works by the blind French organist, Gaston Litaize, the Prelude from Douze pieces pour grand orgue and the Prelude et danse fuguee, find Unger moving up a whole gear. As with so many young rising stars who want to show they can be all things to all men. Unger sounds so much more inspiring in this 20th century repertoire, those jazzy moments well captured, and he continues to please me greatly with those wispy passages that are magical in his handling of the Choral from Charles-Marie Widor’s Seventh Organ Symphony. Yet I wished this disc had been devoted to Olivier Messiaen, his superb Dieu parmi nous from La Nativite du Seigneur, finding him in his instinctive musical world. The three manual organ built in the Musashino Civic Cultural Centre by Marcussen & Son is not really my style of French sounding instrument, but adapts well to this wide range of music. An organist of quite considerable potential. Very good sound quality.

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