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"L'orgue des jardiniers"

Jérôme Mondésert, organ

rec: [n.d.], Strasbourg, Sainte-Aurélie
Hortus - 158 (© 2018) (61'58")
Liner-notes: F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Adagio in d minor (after BWV 1001) - Fugue in d minor (BWV 539); Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 720); Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227) (Gute Nacht, o Wesen); Prelude and fughetta in G (BWV 902); Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 531); Prelude and fugue in A (BWV 536); Sonata No. 6 in G (BWV 530); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Vater unser im Himmelreich; Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748): Ciacona sopra 'l canto fermo O Jesu, du edle Gabe

This disc is first and foremost the musical portrait of an organ. It is an interesting instrument: it was built by Andreas Silbermann, a scion of a famous dynasty of organ builders in Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries. The organ of the Sainte-Aurélie in Strasbourg also earned some fame, because Albert Schweitzer used it for a recording of organ works by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1936. At that time, the organ had pneumatic action, the result of many adaptations to fit in with the fashions of the time. After World War II it was decided to return to mechanical action. In 1997 the initiative was taken to try to reconstruct the organ to the state of 1718, when it was built by Silbermann. This reconstruction took place from 2013 to 2015. This was reason enough for Jérôme Mondésert, the incumbent organist, to make a recording in order to document the present state of the instrument.

Andreas Silbermann represents the Alsatian branch of the dynasty, and generally tended towards the French style of organ building. However, as this organ is considered one of his most 'German' instruments, Mondésert decided to put together a programme of German organ music. Recitals intended to portray an organ are often a loose selection of pieces which have little in common, but here we have three composers who are closely connected in different ways. Johann Sebastian Bach is the central figure; he is preceded by Georg Böhm, who for some time was his teacher, and Johann Gottfried Walther. The latter was Bach's second cousin, and his colleague in Weimar from 1708 to 1717, when he worked as organist of the Stadtkirche and Bach was organist and Konzertmeister at the court.

The disc opens with Ciacona sopra 'l canto fermo O Jesu, du edle Gabe by Walther. This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, Walther is almost exclusively known for his organ arrangements of instrumental concertos by Italian composers. His chorale arrangements are hardly known. Recently I reviewed a complete recording of his organ works, played by Simone Stella, which demonstrated the quality of this part of his oeuvre. Secondly, the title of this piece does not sound very familiar, but the melody is very well known, as it is the same as that of the chorale Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, which Bach used for one of his chorale partitas. Interestingly, the Bach scholar Albert Clement discovered that Bach used in fact the text of O Jesu, du edle Gabe for his partita. Thirdly, Walther based his arrangement on a basso ostinato, the ciacona. This rather unknown piece is followed by one of the best-known pieces by Georg Böhm: a chorale arrangement of Vater unser im Himmelreich, Luther's versification of the Lord's Prayer. It has the character of an aria; the ornamented cantus firmus is in the soprano and seems intended as the imitation of the human voice.

The rest of the programme is devoted to Bach. It is a nice mixture of familiar and lesser-known pieces. The Fugue in d minor is Bach's own transcription of the fugue from his Partita in d minor (BWV 1004) for solo violin. It is the second movement of that partita, and is preceded by an adagio. Mondésert plays his own transcription of this piece, which results in a prelude and fugue. Next is a 'real' prelude and fugue, although there is some doubt as to whether the Fugue in A is from Bach's own pen and, if it is, whether it belongs with the Prelude in A (BWV 536). The prelude is dominated by pedal points, the fugue's subject is riminiscent of the 'concerto' which opens the cantata Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn (BWV 152). The Prelude and fughetta in G (BWV 902) are ranked among the harpsichord works in the Schmieder catalogue, but at Bach's time there was no watershed between the organ and strung keyboard instruments. This performance shows that it works well on the organ. The disc ends with the Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 531), which is considered an early work. It has the features of the North-German organ school, for instance the virtuosic pedal solo which opens the prelude.

Before that we hear also two chorale arrangements. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 720) is an arrangement of one of Martin Luther's most famous hymns. It is for two manuals and pedal and shows a similarity to the chorale fantasias of the North German organ school. Quite interesting is the second piece: Gute Nacht, o Wesen is one of the chorale arrangements from Bach's motet Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227). Mondésert has turned it into an organ piece, which is quite convincing.

Lastly, Mondésert included the Sonata No. 6 in G (BWV 530), one of the six trio sonatas which Bach composed for the musical education of his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. By all accounts he was an outstanding player, and these trio sonatas bear witness to that, as they are technically challenging. The first movement has the character of a concerto movement and includes solo episodes for both hands, the slow movement is a siciliano in binary form and is dominated by counterpoint. The third movement's theme is treated in the manner of a fugue.

Jérôme Mondésert is well versed in this repertoire; among his organ teachers is the German baroque specialist Harald Vogel. He has also been educated at the harpsichord by the likes of Huguette Dreyfus and Aline Zylberajch. This explains the stylish performances he delivers here. That said, I sometimes found his playing a bit too restrained and too formal. Everything is alright, but not always very inspired. I would have liked a more rhetorical approach and somewhat sharper articulations. The acoustic seems not to be any problem, as there is not that much reverberation and, judging by the pictures I have seen, not that large. However, as the portrait of the organ this disc turns out well. Organ aficionados should consider adding this disc to their collection. It is an interesting instrument from several angles. It is a shame that the booklet is only in French, and that the registration of the pieces in the programme is omitted.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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