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Disc review: Cameron Carpenter, ‘If You Could Read My Mind’

He is 33 years old and is pictured on the cover of this disc with DVD wearing a fauxhawk and a white tank top (of the sort briefly and stupidly called “wifebeater”).

He’s played in Buffalo on the “Mighty Wurlitzer” of the Riviera Theater but he travels around the country with the instrument he performs on here – an “International Touring Organ,” a digital console and touring sound system requiring a single large truck that can be assembled in less than three hours. The major point really is to bring organ repertoire to say, Fenders, Colorado or East McKeesport, Pa. – places where they don’t have a great organ (as Buffalo does in the First Presbyterian Church, among other places) but a gym or auditorium large enough for the sound. If playing the organ were merely a matter of fingers, feet, keys, stops and pedals, Carpenter would no doubt impress.

But as his generation’s Virgil Fox, the music he plays here is in consistently dicey taste and worse. Not only does he elaborate pointlessly on the prelude of Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1, he proves for all time that no organist has any business whatsoever trying to play “paraphrases” of such gentle pop music beauties as Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” You have to give an organist some credit for playing Marcel Dupre’s “Variations Sur Un Noel,” and two movements from Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4 are both ridiculous on the organ but permissible, too, given Scriabin’s own lunacies.

Nevertheless, by the time Carpenter gets through with “the king of instruments,” it sounds more like the court jester’s summer fill-in.

Crossover Classical

Cameron Carpenter

“If You Could Read My Mind: Music by Bach, Rachmaninoff, Dupre, Piazzola, Bacharach, Leonard Cohen and Others performed by organist Cameron Carpenter” (Sony Classical, disc plus DVD)

2 stars

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