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"The Organ of Joachim Wagner in Siedlce IV, 1744-1745"

Ewa Rzetecka-Niewadomska, organ

rec: July 2019, Bishop of Siedlce Residence (PL)
Dux - 1608 (© 2020) (76'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/PL
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata in A (WQ 70,1 / H 133); Sonata in a minor (Wq 70,4 / H 85); Sonata in g minor (Wq 70,6 / H 87); Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703): Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein; Aus tiefer Not (Herr, wie du willt, so schick's mit mir); In dich hab' ich gehoffet Herr; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Canzona in d minor (BWV 588); Gottes Sohn ist kommen (BWV 703); Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottes Sohn (BWV 698); Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott (BWV 704); Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 699); Partite diverse sopra O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767); Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (BWV 701); Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784): Fugue in f minor (F 31,8 / BR WFB A 88)

Joachim Wagner was one of the major organ builders in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. He was probably a pupil of Matthias Hartman in Magdeburg who himself was a pupil of the famous organ builder Arp Schnitger. Wagner built his first organ in 1719 in Berlin, and in the next thirty years he built almost fifty organs. He is especially interesting for what is considered his own invention, which is called in German Doppeltransmissionslade, which can be translated as 'wind chest with double transmission'. This makes possible the transmission of registers between the manuals. It is called 'double' because the registers were assigned in an equal measure to several sections of the instrument. Organ scholars knew about this, but it had been presumed that no organ with this transmission had survived World War II; until 2002, that is. In that year three Polish organologists discovered what remained from an organ which had been dismantled in 1969.

In about 1791 this organ was placed in St Benno's Church in Warsaw. In 1808 it was purchased by Helena Chrapowicka for the church of Pruszyn, which was then under construction. From 1824 to 1968 it was at the church's gallery. It was then dismantled and its elements were stored in the attic above the church vestry until 2002. A thorough examination led to the discovery that this was an instrument which Wagner had built in 1744/45. The fact that he had used his invention in this particular instrument made this find even more important. It is now the only extant instrument by Wagner with a Doppeltransmissionslade, and an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the work of one of the most important organ builders in history.

The organ is now restored and reconstructed. It has been placed in the main hall of the residence of the bishop of Siedlce, where it is used for public concerts. It has only two manuals - and no pedal - with six-and-a-half register, and a simultaneous division of the manuals into bass and descant. This is rather unusual, and this organ differs considerably from other small instruments by Wagner. Scholars have come to the conclusion that this organ was not meant to be played in a church but was rather built for a chamber. This explains the choice of music which has been recorded. This is the fourth disc devoted to this organ. On one of the previous discs, Marek Toporowski performed the six trio sonatas Johann Sebastian Bach composed for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. That kind of repertoire suits this organ perfectly, and the same can be said about the organ sonatas by his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. On the first disc in this series, Wolfgang Zerer played the third of this set; here we get three other sonatas.

Carl Philipp Emanuel composed his sonatas, when he worked at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin. At least four of them were written specifically for Princess Amalia of Prussia, Frederick's sister. She owned an organ with two manuals and a pedalboard, but she herself was not able to play the pedals. This explains why these sonatas are for manuals only. This allows performances on other keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord or the clavichord. The sonatas are in three movements in the usual order fast - slow - fast. The fast movements have the character of dialogues, whereas the slow movements are of a more or less 'meditative' nature. They have little in common with father Bach's trio sonatas, which are dominated by counterpoint and in which the three parts are treated on equal footing. In these sonatas Emanuel translates the style of the clavichord and the fortepiano to the organ. The contrasts between piano and forte have here to be realised by shifting from one manual to the other. Ewa Rzetecka-Niewiadomska delivers fine performances, in which the contrasts come off very well. The only issue is her choice of tempi. The Sonata in g minor opens with an allegro moderato, but her tempo is anything but moderate. On the other hand, the central movement of the Sonata in A is called andante con tenerezza, which means that it has to be played "with tenderness", but also in a moderately fast tempo. The tempo here is more like an adagio.

The programme is entirely devoted to members of the Bach family. Most of them were educated as organists, and that also goes for Johann Sebastian's sons. However, Emanuel admitted in a meeting with Charles Burney that he had lost the ability to play the pedalboard. The youngest son, Johann Christian, was also an organist; after his move to Italy, he acted for some time as organist at Milan Cathedral. However, the most brilliant of them all was the eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann. He occupied several posts as organist, and also played recitals. He was generally considered the most virtuosic organist of his generation. The music critic Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart stated: "Undoubtedly the greatest organist of the world! He is a son of the world-famous Sebastian Bach and has reached - if not surpassed - his father's virtuosity." He then goes on by describing his features: "a fiery genius, a creative imagination, originality and inventiveness, a stormy quickness, and the magical power to enchant every heart with his play on the organ". The fact that he was seen as the true heir of his father was not only an honour, but also a burden. During his whole life, he struggled to develop a voice of his own in his oeuvre. His cantatas, for instance, are close to the style of his father, and in some of his keyboard works one also finds traces of his father's oeuvre. The fact that it includes quite a number of fugues is telling: Friedemann did not abandon counterpoint. The Fugue in f minor included here is the first of a set of eight for two manuals without pedal, which means that they can also be played on strung keyboard instruments, as Friedemann himself explicitly stated. The idiom is in line with the fashion of the time, though.

Johann Sebastian Bach is represented with five chorale arrangements, a chorale partita and a canzona. The chorale arrangements belong to a group of 24 pieces which have become known as 'Kirnberger Collection', as they were bought by Bach's pupil Johann Philipp Kirnberger from the Leipzig publisher Breitkopf in 1777. They are not conceived as a kind of cycle, but Ewa Rzetecka-Niewiadomska selected five pieces which have in common that they are based on chorales for Christmastide. They are perfect examples of Bach's command of counterpoint. The organ may be rather small, its colour palette is wide enough to allow a performance in which the chorale melodies come out clearly enough. The same goes for the chorale partita O Gott, du frommer Gott; the text of the hymn was written by Johann Heermann and published in 1630; the melody was published with the text in 1646. The partita is written for two manuals without pedal. The first partita is a harmonisation of the chorale; this is followed by eight variations. A work like this offers the possibilities to explore the qualities of the organ, as Ewa Rzetecka-Niewiadomska does here. The canzona was an old form, whose origins goes back to the Renaissance, when it was an instrumental imitation of a vocal work. Bach's Canzona in d minor is in two sections, both fugal. Ewa Rzetecka-Niewiadomska takes a quiet tempo and creates a nice transparency through her registration.

Johann Christoph Bach is of the generation before Johann Sebastian, who held him in high esteem. Among his most famous works are his lamento Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte and his wedding cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön. In 1665 he was appointed organist of the Georgenkirche in Eisenach; he held this position until his death. In this capacity he initiated the construction of a new, much larger organ. He could play this instrument in the late 1690s, but it was finished only four years after his death. Here we hear three nice specimens of his art; they are taken from a collection of 44 chorale preludes.

This disc may be devoted to the Bach family, but it is first and foremost intended as a demonstration of the qualities of this beautiful and historically important organ. As such it is an unequivocal success. Ewa Rzetecka-Niewiadomska has managed to put together a programme of pieces which fit the instrument perfectly. The acoustic is almost that of a chamber, which lends this programme a strong amount of intimacy, which is exactly what the selected music requires.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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