CRITIC OF THE CD “AMAZING GRACE” – The American Organist August 2023

31 August 2023

Villasanta is a municipality a few miles northeast of Milan. Its church of St. Anastasia, which fronts the Pope John XXIII Plaza, was built in the late 18th century. The organ is new, dating to 2013, and was constructed by Diego Bonato. It has electronic action, 91 ranks, 65 speaking stops, four 61-note manuals, and 32 pedal notes. The instrument is divided into two opposing galleries in the transept. There is also a small apsidal organ, by Balbiani, which is connected to the main one.

To this imposing instrument, organist Giorgio Parolini ( ) brings some equally imposing new literature. The composer is Grimoaldo Macchia, born in 1972 (more information is available on his website, ). His vision of organ music is big, expressive, approachable, direct. While there are 33 tracks on this CD, there are 14 works; one takes up twelve tracks all by itself.
The first piece, a Toccata on “Amazing Grace”, makes for a rousing opening. Parolini makes sure to let us hear the big acoustics of the church with generous pauses between sections – and about ten seconds of reverberation at the very end. To say that a work would be a great postlude is no slight, but rather a tribute to its marriage of technique and musical clarity. Clocking in at 4:09, Macchia’s Toccata would make a great postlude on a major occasion.

The next piece, an Evocation and Chorale on EVENTIDE, is a grand tour of “Abide with me”, starting gently andworking up to full organ with great pacing and dignity. This is followed by a Partita-Suite on the same tune, a lenghty tour de force of great variety, beginning with a startlingly modern prelude and ending with a toccata in the grand French Romantic manner. This is the work in twelve movements alluded to above.
Following is a series of inventive pieces on themes of Christmas, death and resurrection, the mother of Jesus, the hymn tune LOBE DEN HERREN, and others. The sheer force of personality encountered in the toccata-like movements is balanced by the great command of counterpoint heard in, for example, the Toccata en Koraal over “Vom Himmel hoch” or the trio movement of the LOBE DEN HERREN Suite.

The penultimate piece is The Flight of the Bumblebach (Scherzo on B-A-C-H). Yes, Bumblebach. It’s a chromatic motus perpetuus on a chirpy registration, taking us right up to the top of the pipework and ending with an abrupt fortissimo chord. A delightful encore, it clocks in at just under a minute and a half.
The final track is a typical barn burner of an organ toccata – repetitive patterns in the manuals over a slow melody in a thundering bass, à la Tu es Petra – but on the Mexican song “Cielito lindo”, a tune instantly recognizable by, probably, everyone on earth. One might wonder “Why this tune, and why this treatment, and why here!”. But then, in the words of a popular song of my youth, “Just scratch your neck and say what the heck, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world!”. On this note of spontaneity, a recording full of big music comes to a cheerful ending.

Giorgio Parolini is an excellent, versatile organist, and Grimoaldo Macchia is an equally excellent composer. Together, they have internalized several encyclopedias of the organ and its music, and they share this generously in scintillating compositions and virtuosic performances. A final pleasure is the cowritten liner notes. The booklet is permanently affixed to the CD box by its back cover, making it unlosable – and one would not want to lose it.
A fascinating disc.

Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO,ChM