musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Stellwagen-Orgel zu St. Marien Stralsund, Vol. 3"

Martin Rost, organ

rec: May 13 - 14, 2013, Stralsund, St Marien
MDG - 320 1816-2 (© 2013) (68'50")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann DECKER (1598-1668): Praeambulum in e minor; Johann Nicolaus HANFF (1665-1711/12): Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott; Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit; Vincent LÜBECK (1654-1740): Praeludium in d minor; Jacob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651): Christum wir sollen loben schon; Johann Adam REINCKEN (1643-1722): An Wasserflüssen Babylon, chorale fantasia; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Alleluia, laudem dicite (after H.L. Hassler); Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (WV 4); Fantasia in G; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (WV 60); Praeambulum in d minor; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Fugue No. 14 in a minor (TWV 30,14); Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (TWV 31,5); Matthias WECKMANN (c1616-1674) Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein; Praeludium 1. toni a 5

The frontispiece of this disc refers to the organ which Martin Rost plays. However, the music he has selected was written by composers who worked or lived in Hamburg, mostly in the capacity of organist of one of the main churches. There is no direct connection between their music and this particular organ. It was built by Friederich Stellwagen from 1653 to 1659. Through the centuries it has undergone various changes, and was restored to its former glory between 2003 and 2008. Stellwagen was a pupil of Gottfried Fritzsche, who built several organs in Hamburg. For that reason the Stralsund organ is in the tradition of organ building in northern Germany and Hamburg in particular. One of the features of the latter is that organs which were adapted or rebuilt always remained close to the work of previous builders. This resulted in a high amount of continuity which is reflected in the music which was composed by organists who were employed in Hamburg in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

There were many jobs for organists in Hamburg. The city included five principal churches, the Cathedral - which was not under the jurisdiction of the city council - and many smaller churches and chapels in the various parts of the city. The programme of this disc includes music by some of the most famous organists who worked in Hamburg.

Jakob Praetorius was from a family of organists whose father and grandfather were active in this capacity in the Jacobikirche. Jacob (II, the younger) was organist of the Petrikirche since 1604 and studied for several years with Sweelinck in Amsterdam. Christum wir sollen loben schon may originally have been part of a larger variation cycle.

Another Sweelinck pupil was Heinrich Scheidemann, son of David Scheidemann who was organist in Wöhrden in Holstein and was appointed organist of St. Katharinen in Hamburg in 1604. At least in 1629 he was organist at the same church as his father's successor. He held this position until his death. He initiated the enlargement of the organ by Fritzsche to an instrument of four manuals and pedal. A relative large part of his keyboard oeuvre has been preserved, thanks to their wide dissemination for which his colleagues in northern Germany were responsible. It bears witness to the great appreciation of his compositions. The influence of Sweelinck comes to the fore in his use of the echo technique, for instance in the upper voice of the Fantasia in G. The second variation on Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott is highly embellished and towards the end he turns to the echo technique again. Scheidemann's oeuvre includes various intabulations. Sometimes these are pretty strict adaptations of vocal items for the organ. Alleluia, laudem dicite is based on a motet by Hans-Leo Hassler and is more an arrangement than a transcription as he reduces the number of voices and adds extended embellishments to the upper voice.

His successor at St. Katharinen was Johann Adam Reincken who was especially famous for his variations which exerted a great attraction on Johann Sebastian Bach. He made a copy of Reincken's large-scale chorale fantasia on An Wasserflüssen Babylon. It is a highly virtuosic work in which he made use of the various variation techniques which were in vogue in his time. He was greatly surprised when he heard Bach improvise on the same chorale tune, as he thought that his art of variation had died down.

Several musicians from central Germany settled in Hamburg, among them Christoph Bernhard, a pupil of Heinrich Schütz. He was Musikdirektor from 1664 to 1674 as a successor to Thomas Selle. Another Schütz pupil was Matthias Weckmann who was a member of his chapel, first as a singer and then as organist. He went to Hamburg to study with the above-mentioned Jacob Praetorius and also had close contacts with Scheidemann. He had several posts, for instance in Denmark, and returned to Hamburg in 1655 where he was appointed as organist of the Jacobikirche. It was at his instigation that Bernhard was given the position of Musikdirektor. Weckmann played a central role in the city's musical life. He founded a collegium musicum which gave weekly concerts in the Cathedral. Many of his organ works are highly virtuosic and elaborate. One can understand that his audition which led to his appointment as organist was called spectacular. The three verses on Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein show an increasing freedom in the treatment of the chorale melody. The second is highly embellished, the third includes some striking and daring harmonies.

Johann Nicolaus Hanff is also from Central Germany; he was born in Thuringia. He lived in Hamburg for two periods, apparently without a position as organist. Johann Mattheson writes that he was Hanff's pupil from 1688. He was appointed organist in Eutin in 1696 at the latest, and after the death of his employer, the Prince-Bishop of Lübeck, he returned to Hamburg. Very few organ works from his pen have come down to us: just six chorale preludes. The cantus firmus is in the upper voice and is highly embellished. Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott is different from the others as it comprises two sections, the second of which is a fugue.

Vincent Lübeck was one of the last great organists in the North-German tradition. His first post was that of organist in Stade, from 1674 to 1702. Here he played a large organ by Arp Schnitger. When he was appointed as organist of the Nikolaikirche in Hamburg he played an even larger organ of the same builder, with four manuals and 67 stops, one of the largest in the world and considered the best in Hamburg. Lübeck was a virtuoso at the organ and a sought-after teacher. He was also active as an organ consultant. Only nine organ works have survived which include many brilliant scales and pedal solos. The Praeludium in d minor shows that Lübeck links up with the tradition of the stylus phantasticus of the North-German organ school.

Two composers remain to be mentioned. Hardly anything is known about Johann Decker, who from 1624 until his death was organist of the Cathedral. The Praeambulum in e minor is the only extant work from his pen. Lastly Telemann: he was appointed Musikdirektor of the main churches in 1721. However, he had no duties as organist, and organ music takes a very small part in his huge oeuvre. Most of his compostions in this department are written for either harpsichord or organ and omit a part for the pedal. That is also the case with the two pieces recorded here.

Martin Rost is an expert in the field of historical organs and is organist of the St. Marien since 1997. He has made many recordings of 17th- and 18th-century repertoire, partly on his 'own' organ. Therefore we can expect stylish interpretations in which the qualities of the organ are clearly exposed. However, he avoids to turn his recital into a demonstration of its features: the music comes first and he adapts his registration to the character of every single piece. This disc bears witness to the magnificence of the Stellwagen organ and to the brilliance and depth of the music written by the great masters of the North German organ school.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Stellwagen-Orgel Stralsund

CD Reviews