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CD reviews

Stellwagen Organ in St. Marien, Stralsund

Martin Rost, organ

rec: May 28 - 29, 2010, Stralsund, St. Marien
MDG - 320 1624-2 (© 2010) (65'52")

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (BWV 739), chorale fantasia; Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697): Praeludium in G; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Ach Gott und Herr (BuxWV 177), 2 versets; Canzona in g minor (BuxWV 173); Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BuxWV 185); Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (BuxWV 199); Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist (BuxWV 209); Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161); Praeludium in d minor (BuxWV 140); Peter HASSE d.Ä. (?-1640): Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, 2 versets; Praeludium pedaliter in F; Johann Christian SCHIEFFERDECKER (1679-1732): Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, 3 versets; Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Canzona in G; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, 3 versets; Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, chorale fantasia; Praeludium in g minor

North Germany is full of valuable historical organs. The instrument which Martin Rost plays here is the largest in Europe originally built in the 17th century without the use of material from older instruments. It is a musical and architectural monument of unique quality. It is quite surprising, though, that we don't know who played the organ at the time it was built and the decades after. I have searched the internet, but I have only been able to find information about the builder and the history of the organ, but nothing about organists of the 17th and 18th century who were the happy players of this instrument (*). The booklet also doesn't mention any. Therefore most of the music on the programme is by organists who were active in Lübeck.

The organ was built by Friederich Stellwagen from 1653 to 1659. He was from Halle an der Saale and went to Hamburg where he worked as an associate under Gottfried Fritsche, who was the court organ builder of the Electorate of Saxony. In 1633 or 1634 he settled in Lübeck as an independent organ-builder. The construction of the organ in Stralsund, which was completed only a couple of months before his death, was the highlight of his career. Over the centuries the organ has been the victim of various changes, and was sometimes substantially damaged. Fortunately it survived the two World Wars, and in the last decade a thorough restoration and partial reconstruction could be performed. The discovery of documents about the building from Stellwagen's time was of great help. More information about the history of the organ and technical details can be found here (**).

This organ is pretty much the ideal vehicle for the music of the North German organ school. The central figure is Dietrich Buxtehude, who is represented here with various specimens of his oeuvre. The Praeludium in d minor is written in the stylus phantasticus with its sequence of contrasting sections. Komm, heilger Geist, Herre Gott is one of Buxtehude's most impressive chorale arrangements, with a highly ornamented cantus firmus in the upper voice. Martin Rost's performance is faster than I am used to, but it works very well. The Passacaglia in d minor is one of the earliest organ pieces in Germany which is based on a basso ostinato. Italian influence is notable in the slight Canzona in g minor.

What is especially interesting here is that Buxtehude's predecessors are also represented. First Franz Tunder, whom Buxtehude succeeded in 1667. He was the founder of the tradition of the Abendmusiken which were to become famous in Buxtehude's time. Little is known about his early education, but according to Johann Mattheson, the German theorist of the early 18th century, he had studied with Frescobaldi in Rome. Italian influence is noticeable in the Canzona in G. His organ music requires two manuals and pedals, and is often quite virtuosic. That is certainly the case with Jesus Christus, unser Heiland in which the number of parts rises to five and which includes a section for double pedal.

Tunder's music is often played and recorded, but his predecessor in Lübeck, Peter Hasse the Elder, is hardly known. He was the great-grandfather of Johann Adolf Hasse, the German opera composer of the 18th century. He was organist in Lübeck from 1616 to his death in 1640. It is assumed he was a pupil of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck in Amsterdam. During his time in Lübeck the three organs in the Marienkirche had been enlarged, the large organ by Friederich Stellwagen. Only two organ works by Hasse are known, and both are played here. In Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr the cantus firmus is largely unornamented.

Also little known is Buxtehude's successor as organist of the Marienkirche: Johann Christian Schiefferdecker. He was from a family of ministers and church musicians who were active in Weissenfels and Zeitz and has been a pupil at the Thomasschule in Leipzig. He composed some operas which are all lost. Also lost are the 22 pieces which he performed as Abendmusiken in Lübeck, where he succeeded Buxtehude as organist in 1707. Very little of his organ music has survived, the most important work being the variations on the chorale Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, the German rhymed version of the Magnificat.

Nicolaus Bruhns never worked in Lübeck, but studied for a while with Buxtehude. He became organist in Husum, a town close to the border with Denmark. He is another typical representative of the North German organ school. His Praeludium in G is a brilliant piece, with two pedal parts. It is known that Johann Sebastian Bach admired and studied this work. He is also present in this programme, with the chorale fantasia Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern which clearly shows the influence of Buxtehude. When he studied with his brother Johann Christoph he had already copied pieces by Buxtehude, and in 1705 he went to Lübeck to hear and meet the master himself. He remained longer in Lübeck than planned, and this visit had a lasting influence on his development as a composer of organ music.

Since 1997 Martin Rost is choirmaster and organist of the Marienkirche in Stralsund. He is also very active as an expert in the field of organ history and is regularly involved in restoration projects. He proves to be an excellent guide who shows all the aspects of the organ as well as the various styles and genres in the repertoire of the great masters of the North German organ school. His performances are very impressive, and the engineer has done a brilliant job in recording the programme. Interestingly is that during the recording the wind was produced by bellows rather than the modern organ engine. It results in a natural and breathing sound which is ideal for this kind of music. The only reservation in regard to the interpretation is the frequent change of registration during single pieces. The figure of the organ assistant, changing stops during play, was unknown in the 17th century.

The booklet contains programme notes on music and organ, the disposition of the organ and the registration of every single piece. There are also some pictures of details of the organ. And on the reverse of the booklet we find a magnificent picture of this wonderful organ in its full glory.

For organ aficionados this disc is indispensable. If you are an organist yourself, it may make you envious of Martin Rost.

(*) Dr. Martin A. Lobeck from Morsbach (Germany) has kindly informed me that the German Wikipedia contains a list with organists of the organ in Stralsund from 1547 onwards.
(**) The article is obviously translated from German with a translation programme. For those who can read German, click on the label "Deutsch" at the top of the page.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Stellwagen-Orgel Stralsund

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