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CD reviews

"The Bach Circle"

Emanuele Cardi, organ

rec: August 22 - 23, 2017, Cimego (Trento), Chiesa di S Martino
Brilliant Classics - 95649 (© 2018) (73'59")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Fantasia and fugue in c minor (Wq 119,7 / H 75,5); Sonata in a minor (Wq 70,4 / H 85); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) (attr): Toccata and fugue in d minor (BWV 565); Johann Christian KITTEL (1732-1809): Fantasia con organo pleno; Prelude in e minor [1]; Preludio pro organo pleno [2]; So gehst du nun, mein, Jesu, hin [2]; Johann Ludwig KREBS (1713-1780): Fantasia sopra Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Krebs-WV 519); Toccata and fugue in a minor (Krebs-WV 411); Johann Caspar VOGLER (1696-1763): Mach's mit mir Gott nach deiner Güt; Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748): Concerto del Sigr. Meck in C

Sources: Johann Christian Kittel, [1] 16 Grosse Praeludien für die Orgel, [n.d.]; [2] Der angehende praktische Organist, 3 vols., 1801-1808

There was a time that the composers who lived and worked between the baroque era and the classical period were a more or less 'forgotten' generation. That is not the case anymore, as performers have discovered the unique features of the music of what is often considered a period of 'transition'. They represent a style of their own, even if this is very differentiated.

That also goes for the composers of organ music of that period. To a large extent the term 'forgotten generation' is still appropriate here, because with the exception of Johann Ludwig Krebs and Gottfried August Homilius as well as the eldest sons of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, few organ composers are really well represented on disc. The disc under review here sheds light on this period, taking Johann Sebastian Bach at its starting point. All the composers were in some way or another connected to Bach, but not all of them belong to the generation of the Bach sons.

Johann Gottfried Walther was one year Bach's senior and his cousin; when Bach worked in Weimar Walther occupied the position of town organist. Like Bach he transcribed Italian instrumental concertos for organ; one of them is included here. The composer of the original piece was Joseph Meck (1690-1758), but the piece is very much in the Italian style.

The other composers in the programme belong to the circle of Bach's pupils. He had many of them, and after their studies they often found a position as organist somewhere in Thuringia. Johann Caspar Vogler was born near Arnstadt, where he became a pupil of Bach at the age of only ten. Between 1710 and 1715 he again studied with Bach, this time in Weimar. At that time Bach probably asked him to make a copy of the two organ books by the French composer Jacques Boyvin. From 1721 until his death Vogler held the post of court organist in Weimar, which was occupied previously by Bach (from 1708 to 1717). Only three compositions by Vogler have been preserved, all for organ, and these show the influence of his teacher. Mach's mit mir Gott nach deiner Güt consists of a chorale setting and a chorale arrangement. In the chorale setting the lines are connected through short interludes.

The pupil who by all accounts was Bach's favourite, was Johann Ludwig Krebs. Stylistically he is also most close to Bach, and some organ works are attributed to either Bach or to Krebs. The Toccata and fugue in a minor is a clear token of Bach's influence. The toccata opens with figurations on the manual over a pedal point; later we hear a brilliant passage for pedal solo. The Fantasia sopra Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele is comparable with such works by Bach; the chorale melody is extensively ornamented.

Another favourite of Bach was Johann Christian Kittel, who was born and died in Erfurt. There he first studied with Jakob Adlung, who has become best known as a theorist. From 1748 to 1750 he studied with Bach in Leipzig. From 1756 until his death he worked as organist in Erfurt, first at the Barfüsserkirche, then at the Predigerkirche. He became famous for his organ recitals; among the visitors were the poets Goethe and Herder. He also attracted quite a number of pupils, among them Michael Gottard Fischer and Johann Christian Heinrich Rinck. Kittel was strongly influenced by Bach and attempted to promote what he had learnt from the master, for instance through his treatise Der angehende praktische Organist, which was published between 1801 and 1808 and was "grounded in the principles of Bach". It includes mainly pieces which could be used in the liturgy. Two pieces are performed here: So gehst du nun, mein Jesus, hin and the Preludio per organo pleno. The two other pieces are examples of free works, probably the kind of pieces he played during his organ recitals. They combine Bachian counterpoint with the galant idiom of his time.

Carl Philipp Emanuel was Bach's second son, and there can be little doubt that he played the organ. However, he was never professionally employed as organist. For a number of years he worked as harpsichordist at the court of Frederick the Great and then moved to Hamburg to succeed Telemann as director musices. Playing the organ was not part of his duties. The main organ works from his pen are six sonatas which he wrote for Anna Amalia, sister of Frederick the Great, who was a keen organist and had a fine organ in her palace, but was not able to play the pedals. Therefore these sonatas omit a pedal part. That is different with the Fantasia and fugue in c minor; for what reason it was written is not known.

The disc ends with what is probably the earliest work in the programme. The Toccata and fugue in d minor is one of Bach's most famous organ works - that is to say: if it is from his pen. There are considerable doubts about its authenticity. If it is by Bach it could date from his formative years, but it is also quite possible that it was written by a contemporary of his.

As much as I appreciate the fact that Emanuele Cardi devoted an entire disc to music by composers, some of which are more or less 'forgotten', he could have been more adventurous in his selection of pieces. It is understandable that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was included, as he was also a pupil of Bach, although organ works are hardly a representative part of his oeuvre. However, the organ sonatas are very well known and available in a number of recordings. I would have liked more pieces by Kittel, for instance, or by Johann Philipp Kirnberger, another important Bach pupil. Walther is represented by one of his concerto transcriptions; why did Cardi choose the probably best-known of them? As Bach is the inspiration for this programme the inclusion of one of his organ works is also obvious, but the choice of a piece which is probably not written by him and on top of that is an evergreen, is a bit disappointing. In short, the concept makes much sense, but more could have been made of it.

That said, Cardi comes up with generally good performances. Sometimes I was a little unhappy with his choice or registers - which is partly a matter of taste - and here and there I found his playing a bit stiff and rigid, for instance in Kittel's Preludio pro organo pleno, which I have become acquainted with through a recording by the late Ewald Kooiman, whose performance had more flair. The toccata by 'Bach' is performed in an improvisatory style, devoid of all the heavyhandedness with which it is often played. The fugue could have been faster, and I also don't see the need for the changes of manuals here.

The organ is a modern instrument, based on German models of the 18th century. The pitch is a=440 Hz and the temperament Neidhardt II (1732). This organ is well suited to the repertoire played here.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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Emanuele Cardi

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