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"Johannes Geffert plays Leyding, Bach, De Gruijtters, Kuhnau & Bruhns"

Johannes Geffert, organ

rec: [n.d.], Antwerp, St Pauluskerk
LCS HiRes - LCSSACD003 (© 2009) (78'53")

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Partita O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767); Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697): Prelude in e minor; Johan DE GRUIJTTERS (1709-1772) (ed): Allegro (194) [2]; Andante in G [2]; Ceciliana (132) [2]; Het Carillion Van Duijnkerke (119) [2]; La bergeri (55) [2]; Marche (95) [2]; Maria schoon in sexti toni (153) [2]; Sonata (40, 42, 44 & 119) [2]; Tantum ergo (152) [2]; Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Suonata I 'Der Streit zwischen David und Goliath' [1]; Georg Dietrich LEYDING (1664-1710): Prelude in E flat

(Sources: [1] Johann Kuhnau, Musicalische Vorstellung einiger biblischer Historien, 1700; [2] Johannes De Gruytters, Andanten, marchen, gavotten ... Voor den beijaert ofte klok-spil ..., 1746)

This disc provides a portrait of an organ with some remarkable characteristics. Firstly, it is the only organ in Belgium which dates from the 17th century and has retained its original sound, despite some later additions and changes. It was built around 1650 by Nicolaes van Haeghen. Secondly, although the chase of the organ is reflecting the style of organ building in North Germany and the Netherlands, its sound is closer to the classical French organ tradition. In the liner notes the organ is called a "synthesis-instrument". One would expect that the French side of this organ had been more strongly represented in the programme, but instead the main items are by German composers.

The disc begins with the Prelude in E flat by a little-known organ master from North Germany, Georg Dietrich Leyding, who received lessons from Buxtehude and Reinken. Only five organ works from his pen have survived. One of them is this prelude, which shows the influence of the Italian concerto. This is realised in the performance by alternating the manuals.

Johann Sebastian Bach has written a number of large-scale partitas for organ which begin with a harmonisation of a chorale which is then varied. In the Partita O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767) the chorale is followed by eight variations. It is generally assumed every variation is related to a stanza of the chorale. The Dutch musicologist Albert Clement has studied this partita and some of his findings are mentioned in the booklet. In the light of this it had been useful if the text of the chorale had been printed in the booklet.

Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig was Johann Kuhnau. His oeuvre is large and consists mainly of vocal works, but his keyboard works are also of great importance. Among the best-known are his six 'biblical sonatas', early examples of programme music. The first is about the battle between David and Goliath, which begins with a graphic depiction of the boasting of Goliath. The second section is about the trembling of the Israelites. Kuhnau uses a repetition of notes to express their fear, and the cantus firmus is a famous chorale by Martin Luther, 'Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir', after Psalm 130 (Out of the deep). The struggle of David and Goliath and the latter's defeat are also depicted, and the sonata closes with three sections expressing the joy of the Israelites. In the second of them Kuhnau vividly pictures the sound of tambourines of the Israelite women. Johannes Geffert emphasizes this through his registration.

The last item in the programme is one of the best-known specimens of German baroque organ music and frequently recorded: the Prelude in e minor by Nicolaus Bruhns. He was a brilliant organist - pupil of Buxtehude - and violinist. According to historical accounts he could play both instruments simultaneously. His brilliance as an organist is impressively reflected in this prelude, one of two in the same key. This one is the largest of the two, and consists of five sections: three free passages are interspersed with two fugues. This piece is written in the stylus phantasticus, which was predominant in Northern Germany and shows the influence of the Italian concertante style.

The only non-German part of the programme is devoted to pieces from a collection of music for the carillon, put together by Johan De Gruytters, himself player of the carillon in Antwerp. The collection contains 194 pieces which could be played at the carillon but also on other keyboard instruments and even treble and bass instruments. I assume these pieces are included because of the ties between De Gruytters and Antwerp where this organ was built in the Sint-Pauluskerk. They are written in the galant idiom: the right hand plays the melody whereas the left hand is mostly reduced to an accompaniment. The character of these pieces is various as the tracklist shows. The two best-known are Het Carillon van Duijnkerke - an imitation of the carillon in Dunkirk, a city in the north of France which since 1662 was part of French Flanders - and the allegro (No 194 in the collection). Johannes Geffert has put four pieces together as a 'sonata': andante, giga allegro, menuet and rondeau. Le bergeri is a typical pastoral piece and shows the influence of the NoŽls then so popular in France.

This organ is definitely worth of recording attention. Personally I would have liked a somewhat different programme, preferably with lesser-known works from the Southern Netherlands - as Belgium was called when the organ was built. This organ is also not the ideal instrument for North German organ music. The prelude by Bruhns is actually quite disappointing, also because the tempo Johannes Geffert has chosen is too slow. The character of the stylus phantasticus with its rapid alternation of contrasting sections and phrases is not very well explored. I also think the tempi of some variations in Bach's partita, and especially the last, are a bit too slow.

Otherwise this disc has given me much pleasure. Recording an organ in a large church isn't easy, but the recording engineer has done a brilliant job. Johannes Geffert has also managed to adapt his style of playing to the acoustic, as in particular his performance of the sonata by Kuhnau shows - one of the highlights of this disc. The pieces from the collection of De Gruytters work very well on this organ, and Johannes Geffert has taken the opportunity here to show the colour of the organ in the choice of registers.

Unfortunately the booklet leaves much to be desired. It contains the disposition of the organ but not the registers used in the various items. The tracklist does give neither the keys of the pieces by Leyding and Bruhns nor the number in Schmieder's catalogue of Bach's Partita. The numbers of two carillon pieces: Het Carillon van Duijnkerke and the last movement of the 'sonata' have the same number: 119. The producer of this disc has informed me that the numbering is identical in De Gruytters book as well. In order to prevent misunderstandings this should have been mentioned in the booklet. In the liner notes the name of De Gruytters is misspelled, and the original description of Kuhnau's sonata isn't without errors either. Lastly, nowhere the date of the recording is given.

These are unfortunate blots on an otherwise enjoyable production.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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