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Warm review for Skrabl's largest organ

The new Skrabl organ in the Polish National Radio Symphony Hall, Katowice Click image to enlarge

The new Skrabl organ in the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra hall in Katowice, the largest the firm has built, has received a warm review in the influential magazine, Choir and Organ

The project consultant for the five-manual, 105-stop instrument, which comprises nearly a million handmade parts, was Julian Gembalski, professor of organ at the city's Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music.

He says: 'The principal idea was that the instrument should be inspired by symphonic organs of the 19th and 20th centuries, but that it should also suit the demands of 21st-century music. To design such large-scale symphonic instrument, Skrabl undertook study trips to instruments in France, naturally including the Cavaillé-Coll at Saint-Sulpice, Paris.

'The Grand Chœur, when heard playing Widor, is remarkably successful. Also, registration of earlier literature sounds very authentic: German Baroque and French Classical styles. The choir of trumpets from different divisions coupled together is very effective in a grand jeu; so as well as replicating the sound of Cavaillé-Coll in Romantic repertoire, this organ is equally adept at providing the colours of Clicquot for French Classical literature.

'It combines three qualities of organ building: French, German and Skrabl! But it is not dominated by the organ builder's style - rather, it is a universal instrument, inspired by tradition.'

The German-style fifth manual, says Gembalski, is like having a second instrument at your disposal. 'The specification is designed so that the organ can play its varied role with orchestras, with chamber ensembles and as a solo instrument'

Matthew Power, the author of the feature, says: 'The concept of a French Symphonic organ is wholeheartedly embraced by the four-manual console at the front of the case; it has mechanical action (with Barker lever), French-style terraced drawstops and a straight, concave pedalboard. The action has a comfortable weight and 'bite' and feeling of connection.'

Referring to the mobile console's fifth manual, which adds a German schwellwerk division, he says: 'Under expression, with some voices on higher pressure, the change of accent from any of the French divisions to this is immediately obvious. Here the strings and celeste are creamier than the French ones; 8ft Portunal and Gedackt are highly characterful and contrasted; and the 16ft Gambe is so broadly scaled it sounds like the entire cello section of the Berlin Phil.

'What is more impressive, though, is how successfully the Schwellwerk can combine with the French-inspired divisions to create something altogether broader when required. Indeed, the plethora of foundations and reeds available gives organists a vast palette and a large-scale canvas on which to paint. Yet this is not simply a means to creating mighty landscapes; it is vivid and dextrous in its solo and ensemble voices, convincing across periods and genres.

'The Positif boasts a rustique Cromorne that will authenticate Classical literature; its Montre is mellower than that of the Grand-orgue which is keen, complemented by woody Bourdons and a warm Diapason; together, as with each division, the massed 8fts create a sense of wideness that seems to stretch the width of the stage.'

Matthew Power was impressed by the instrument at the inaugural concert last January: 'I heard the instrument duet with symphony orchestra in conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen's Sinfonia concertante...featuring soloist Iveta Apkalna who went on to give the first of the season's solo recitals.

'The warmth and blend of the foundation stops was apparent and the instrument's ability to match the orchestra in the hall's acoustics (with a capacity audience) was never in doubt. More diverse repertoire will continue to show its true colours.'

 Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Hall, Katowice