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Daniel ERICH, Georg Wilhelm Dietrich SAXER & Christoph Wolfgang DRUCKENMÜLLER: "Complete Organ Music"

Manuel Tomadin, organ

rec: April 2015, Zwolle (NL, St Michaelskerk
Brilliant Classics - 95284 (© 2016) (78'59")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list; Registrations

Christoph Wolfgang DRUCKENMÜLLER (1687-1741): Concerto in D; Concerto in F; Concerto in G; Concerto in A; Prelude and Ciaccona in D; Daniel ERICH (1649-1712): Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ; Christum wir sollen loben schon; Es ist das Heil uns kommen her; Georg Wilhelm Dietrich SAXER (?-1740): Prelude in D*; Prelude in D (attr)**; Prelude in e minor; Prelude in F; Prelude in B flat (attr)
(*) track 18; (**) track 21

Once in a while one encounters a disc which is a bit odd. The present disc is one such. First of all, there is little coherence within the programme. Daniel Erich and Georg Wilhelm Dietrich Saxer are representatives of the North-German organ school, whereas Christoph Wolfgang Druckenmüller is a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach. His organ concertos included here have stylistically little to do with the pieces by the other two composers.

Secondly, four chorale preludes by Erich have been preserved; they are all mentioned in the liner-notes, but rather surprisingly one of them, probably the longest, is omitted here. I can't figure out why, except the timing of this disc. However, wouldn't it have been more logical to include it here instead of one of Druckenmüller's concertos, especially as other pieces by him are part of another Brilliant Classic disc, devoted to the Husum Organ Book, from which these pieces are taken?

Thirdly, the timings of the pieces in the track-list in the booklet and at the rear of this disc are all completely wrong. The preludes by Saxer are mostly under four minutes, one of them, indeed, only 45 seconds, if we are to believe the track-list. However, in fact these pieces take between five and seven minutes, one even a little less than nine. So what exactly has gone wrong at the production end? In addition, two of the preludes are attributed to Saxer, one of them a prelude in D. But there are two preludes in D; which one is authentic and which one is attributed to Saxer? The booklet doesn't tell; I could figure it out thanks to the recording by Friedhelm Flamme. And if that is not enough: Manuel Tomadin, in his liner-notes, states that Saxer is of the same generation as Leopold Mozart. Really? Leopold was born in 1719 and died in 1787; we don't know when Saxer was born, but he died in 1740. That is not what I call "of the same generation".

However, let us put all these oddities aside and focus on the music. The disc opens with three pieces by Daniel Erich, one of the least-known representatives of the North-German organ school. Little is known about him, but it seems that he was from Lübeck, where his father was a lutenist and maker of string instruments. It is likely that he was a pupil of Buxtehude, as he played the continuo in the latter's performances. He worked as organist at the parish church of Güstow, south of Rostock. The three chorale preludes treat the chorale melody differently. Allein zu dir Herr Jesu Christ could well support the thesis that Erich was Buxtehude's pupil, as here he makes use of the technique of Vorimitation, meaning that a principal theme, stated in long note values in one part of a polyphonic texture, is anticipated by an imitative section in the other parts. This technique was frequently used by Buxtehude. In Christum wir sollen loben schon the chorale melody is the bass of the piece, where it appears only halfway through the composition.

Georg Wilhelm Dietrich Saxer is even less well-known than Erich; he has no entry in New Grove. We don't know when or where he was born and from whom he received his musical education. His stature must have been considerable, as in 1734 he was appointed as organist of the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg as successor to Georg Böhm. Saxer's three preludes, as well as the two pieces attributed to him on stylistic grounds, are typical products of the North-German organ school, as they include several of its hallmarks. Among them are a prominent pedal part, reflecting both the virtuosity of the organists in this region as well as the size and brilliance of the instruments, which were the largest in Europe. The pieces are called 'preludes', but - like most such pieces from this time - are in fact what would later be called a prelude and fugue. They open with a section of an improvisatory character, undoubtedly reflecting a wide-spread practice at the time. These are followed by a fugal section, and then the piece ends with another episode in free style. These preludes also include virtuosic passage-work.

With Druckenmüller - another composer who receives no attention in New Grove - we are in a different world. There is a clear similarity with the concertos which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote during the time he intensively studied the Italian concertos by the likes of Vivaldi, Torelli and Albinoni. He arranged such concertos for either organ or harpsichord. Johann Gottfried Walther, his second cousin, did the same. There is one important difference, though. Druckenmüller's concertos are no transcriptions of pieces previously written by someone else. These are compositions of his own invention. They could well be the very first pieces which reflect the influence of the modern Italian concerto in Germany. Druckenmüller composed seventeen such pieces; twelve of these are divided into three or four movements. The concertos included here are all in three and follow the Vivaldian order fast - slow - fast. There seems even to be a suggestion of a contrast between solo and tutti, but that could well be the interpretation of Tomadin. These pieces are of great historical importance as they document the early embracing of the modern Italian concerto in Germany. Unfortunately it is not known exactly when they were written.

Druckenmüller came from a family of musicians; his grandfather had been a pupil of Heinrich Scheidemann. His father was organist in Norden, at the Ludgeri Kirche, which had a splendid organ, where the son received his lessons. He later worked as organist in Jork and then in Verden; in both places he played an instrument of Arp Schnitger. Therefore the choice of an organ by the same builder for this recording is most appropriate. It is a very fine instrument, and quite famous at that, often used for recordings. Tomadin effectively explores its characteristics to bring out the features of the concertos by Druckenmüller. He plays the fast movements with much flair, whereas the slow movements receive a truly lyrical interpretation, also thanks to the registration. The earlier pieces by Erich and Saxer come off equally well, and in particular the preludes by the latter show the organ at its full power, including a strong pedal board.

Tomadin is an excellent interpreter, who has much feeling for German baroque organ music. He has made several fine recordings for Brilliant Classics, and this is another jewel in his crown. It is just a shame that the production has some shortcomings.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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