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Sotto il Monte

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This is the story of a little-known organ by a leading builder now restored to working condition and its marvellous voice after more than twenty years of derelict state of repair. The sound of the Lewis organ represents a new important treasure in the province of Bergamo – the land of the Serassi firm, the most popular Italian organ-building family in nineteenth century.
Built in 1911 by T.C. Lewis & Co. for the Vineyard Congregational Church in Richmond – London –, the organ was substantially modified throughout its lifetime, especially in the second half of the 20th century. In 2015 it was donated by Amigoni family and moved the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) Seminary Church in Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, the place of birth of the Catholic Pope St. John XXIII. The works included the provision of electric action, a new case and building frame and the addiction of few stops to increase the versatility, without ever distorting the typical mid-victorian aesthetic of the instrument. The prominent French organist Jean Guillou performed the opening recital.
The instrument has a distinct personality and possesses a wide palette of beautiful delicate stops, really exquisite and warm in tone, flutes with great cantability and reeds of arresting quality. But ultimately it is the effect of full organ that evokes the greatest admiration.
Thomas Christopher Lewis was a firm believer in the romantic organ in the classical tradition: a personal synthesis of modern German and French tonalities within an English framework. For some years Lewis had made a special study of the organs built by Schulze and Cavaillé-Coll. Lewis’s organs achieve a grandeur of effect that not all can admire but which possesses a musical integrity of its own.
His organs are known for their powerful bell-like choruses, delicious flutes, prompt Pedal basses and crisp, bright low-pressure reeds. Lewis’s view of fluework balance was exactly that familiar in France and Germany: basses were kept modest in power but clear in tone. In his organs the flue-work (Diapason chorus) always dominated the reeds – which, though adding colour and intensity, took second place – in contrast to his main competitors, Henry Willis.
This organ proves a textbook exposition of those characteristics. The instrument possesses a good variety of beautiful quiet stops, from the whisper of the Dulciana to the charming Viole de Gambe. The flutes are varied to a degree: the Claribel sounds mellow as like as a solo stop, while the Traverso has a luscious richness and a Cavaillé-Coll-like crescendo in the treble. The string voicing is assured and as varied in character as the flutes. Foundations sound confident: the Geigen Principal has a marvellous telling voice quality, as well as the delightful small Open Diapason – moved to the Choir – while the Open Diapason on the Great has an exceedingly vibrant tone. The reeds add nicely colour to the ensemble, giving a free, splashy sound, but avoiding the devasting power characteristic of Cavaillé-Coll. The Oboe displays its own fascinating French inspiration and the Clarionet and the Willis’s Orchestral Oboe on the Choir provide a solo colour. The bell-like grandeur and the harmonic brilliance is a sound of astonishing magnificence.

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