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"Prague - The Baroque Golden Age"

Pavel Kohout, organ

rec: Sept 19 - 21, 2007, Prague, [Church of Our Lady of Tưn]
Hortus - 853 (© 2008) (63'37")
Liner-notes: E/F/CZ
Cover & track-list

Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1665-1746): Aria; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Canzona III in d minor; Passacaglia in d minor; Karel Blazej KOPRIVA (1756-1785): Fugue supra cognomen DEBEFE in d minor; Gottlieb Theophil MUFFAT (1690-1770): Aria sub Elevatione; Josef Ferdinand Norbert SEGER (1716-1782): Fantasia and fugue in d minor; Fugue in b minor; Prelude and fugue in C; Prelude and fugue in c minor; Toccata and fugue Pastorell; Toccata and fugue in d minor

This disc has two subjects: the historical organ in the Church of Our Lady of Tưn in the old city of Prague, and the organ works of Josef Ferdinand Norbert Seger. The latter are used to demonstrate the features of the organ, and Pavel Kohout has added some pieces by other composers, all from Bohemia or southern Germany, to complete the picture of this instrument.

It was built by Hans Heinrich Mundt, a Bohemian organ builder of German birth, who combined elements of Bohemian and Italian organ building. His organ in the Tưn Church which he constructed in 1673, failed to meet the approval of the board. He added some stops, but this still didn't satisfy the board. Mundt was ordered to revoice the organ in order to make it louder. In 1823 some changes were carried out by Josef Gartner, who became well known for his restoration of baroque organs. He treated the instrument with great respect and as a result Mundt's organ has survived largely intact. In 2000 a restoration took place, which was not based on the original concept of Mundt, but kept the changes by Gartner. Even so, it is still very suitable for the repertoire which Pavel Kohout has selected for this disc.

The main composer on the programme is Seger, who was one of the leading composers and performers in Bohemia in the mid-18th century. He attended the Jesuit Gymnasium in Prague and graduated in philosophy at the university. He worked as a singer and violinist, studied the organ with Cernohorsky and counterpoint with Zach and Tuma. From around 1740 he was organist of Tưn Church and that means that the pieces which Kohout has chosen were probably first played at this organ. It needs to be noted that Seger was well acquainted with the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He arranged various parts from the latter's Wohltemperirtes Clavier for liturgical use. He was also an important teacher; among his students were the likes of Brixi, Kozeluh, Myslivecek and Vanhal.

The repertoire on this disc bears witness to Seger's contrapuntal skills, especially in his many fugues. These are various in character and mood. The Toccata and fugue in d minor is from a collection of pieces based on the eight church modes. The Toccata and fugue Pastorell is written for Christmastide. The toccata has pedal points which are a typical feature of pastorales whereas the subject of the fugue is taken from a popular Bohemian Christmas carol. The fugue from the Fantasia and fugue in d minor ends with a short coda in free improvisatory style. One could see here the influence of Bach, and indirectly that of the north-German organ school, where such pieces mostly ended the same way.

Another pupil of Seger - apart from those mentioned above - was Karel Blazej Kopriva. He was a brilliant organist whose vocal compositions are characterised by a great amount of expression. His organ works bear witness to his mastery of counterpoint. A specimen is the Fuga sopra cognomen DEBEFE. 'Debefe' is a musical anagram of the surname of Josef de Boeufe, a patron of music.

The compositions by these two Bohemian masters is supplemented by music which was written by composers who were active in southern Germany. That is a logical choice because of the strong similarity between the organ in Tưn Church and south-German instruments. Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer was Bohemian by birth, but mostly worked in Germany and his music reflects the German style. He has particularly become famous for his collection of twenty preludes and fugues through different keys which were published under the title Ariadne Musica. It inspired Bach to compose his Wohltemperirtes Clavier. His Aria with variations was originally intended for the harpsichord. It is certainly not a liturgical piece but works very well at the organ, also because of the variety in registration.

The form of aria with variations was quite popular in the 18th century, and so was the passacaglia. Here we hear a specimen by Johann Caspar Kerll, who was born in Saxony and worked most of his life in Munich and Vienna. For several years he stayed in Rome, where he was a pupil of Carissimi. After his return he worked for almost 20 years as organist at the imperial court in Vienna. The Canzona III in d minor is in four contrasting sections, two of which are fugues.

Gottlieb Theophil Muffat was a son of the famous Georg Muffat who was a prominent advocate of the mixture of Italian and French styles. His oeuvre comprises almost exclusively keyboard music, and one of the most important collections is devoted to liturgical music. From his set the Aria sub elevatione is taken, also a theme with variations, to be played during the elevation at mass.

Pavel Kohout is an expert in this repertoire as he has also shown in other recordings. He demonstrates the many possibilities of the organ which is not that large - two manuals and pedal - but has much to offer with regard to contrast of colour. Kohout uses these possibilities effectively, but not in a demonstrative manner. He largely avoids changing the registration during play. The largest contrasts are between clear-cut sections or between prelude and fugue. The playing is stylish with regard to phrasing and articulation, and the recording engineer has also done a fine job.

This is a compelling portrait of an important and musically interesting organ with repertoire which largely is beyond the mainstream. Organ aficionados need not to hesitate.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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Pavel Kohout

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