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"Arp-Schnitger-Orgel Norden, Vol. 3"

Agnes Luchterhandta, Thiemo Janssenb, organ; Sven Neumann, kettledrum, tambourinec

rec: Nov 14 - 16, 2011, Norden, Ludgerikirche
MDG - 906 1753-6 (© 2012) (77'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon Brande champanjeabc [1]; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Toccata, adagio and fugue in C (BWV 564)b; Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (BWV 1128), chorale fantasiaa; Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, chorale variationsb; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Prelude in d minor (BuxWV 140)a; Te Deum laudamus (BuxWV 218)b; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Andante and variations in G (KV 501) (arr. Agnes Luchterhandt)ab; Variations on 'Ah vous dirai-je Maman' (KV 265) (arr. Agnes Luchterhandt)a; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Veni Creator Spiritusa [2]

[1] Susanne van Soldt-manuscript, before 1600; [2] Samuel Scheidt, Tabulatura Nova, I, 1624

Arp Schnitger (1648-1719) is considered the most important organ builder in Northern Europe during the baroque period. His firm, after his death continued by two of his sons, built more than 170 instruments. Most of those which have survived can be found in Germany and the Netherlands. Among the most famous instruments is the one in the Ludgerikirche in Norden, a town in East Frisia.

The two main organs which preceded the present instrument were built by Andreas de Mare in 1567 and by Edo Evers in 1616. In 1686 a contract was signed with Arp Schnitger who built an organ for which he reused 10 registers from the Evers organ. The instrument was divided into Hauptwerk, Rückpositiv, Brustwerk and pedal, and in 1691/92 an Oberwerk was added. With three manuals and pedal and 46 registers it is the largest organ of East Frisia. As one would expect it was adapted to contemporary taste in the 19th century. In the 1980s the organ builder Jürgen Ahrend restored the instrument to its former state. Although the meantone temperament which was in general use in the 17th century has been restored, certain 'compromises' have been made, to make sure later organ music, in particular by Bach, could be played without too much trouble.

This disc is the third which the two organists of this church, Agnes Luchterhandt and Thiemo Janssen, have devoted to their instrument. The first disc was reviewed here, the second has not been reviewed as yet. Obviously music by 17th-century composers from northern Europe fares best on this organ. The choice of pieces by Mozart is quite surprising.

The programme opens with an anonymous piece from the so-called Susanne van Soldt manuscript. It seems almost certain that Susanne van Soldt was the daughter of a wealthy Protestant merchant from Antwerp, who fled to London after the siege of the city by the Spanish in 1585. As Susanne put her name and the year 1599 on the fly leaf of the manuscript, one may conclude that it contained material for her keyboard lessons. This particular piece is a dance which is played here by the two organists with additional percussion. The argument is historically interesting. "An unused drawstop possibly indicates that Schnitger originally included a drum in the Norden organ, activated by pressing the pedals for low C and D on the Principal 16' at the same time. Since it is not available (any longer), a percussion group provides verve and festive atmosphere on our third Norden organ CD", the liner-notes state.

Veni Creator Spiritus is from the collection Tabulatura Nova of 1624 by Samuel Scheidt. He was a pupil of Sweelinck in Amsterdam and his keyboard music shows the master's influence. This particular work is an alternatim composition. The odd verses are to be sung; here we hear simple organ settings of pieces by Gilles Binchois (c1400-1460), Johann Eccard (1553-1611) and Melchior Vulpius (1570-1615). It is regrettable that the performers didn't ask a singer to perform a German version of the Latin chant. In particular the Binchois is a rather curious choice. That kind of music was certainly not sung anymore in Scheidt's time.

Dietrich Buxtehude is the last great representative of the North-German organ school. One of its main features is the stylus phantasticus which originated from Italy. The Prelude in d minor reflects this style. It is in five sections: the first, third and fifth have an improvisatory character, the second and fourth are fugues. At this time there were mostly no formal divisions between a piece in free style, like a prelude, fantasia or toccata, and a fugue. That is a later development which we meet in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Toccata, adagio and fugue in C is one of his most famous pieces, which clearly roots in the North-German organ school. That is particularly the case with the toccata which includes rapid scales and a virtuosic pedal solo. The adagio is in the style of a concerto movement, with the upper part as a kind of instrumental solo. The piece concludes with a fugue on a vivid and capricious subject.

Another work which bears witness to Bach being influenced by the North-German organ school is the chorale fantasia Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, which was discovered in 2008 and was part of a collection of compositions once owned by Wilhelm Rust, Thomaskantor in Leipzig from 1880 to 1892. The (ornamented) cantus firmus, a chorale on a text by Justus Jonas (1524) and published with an anonymous melody in 1529, is in the upper part. It is frequently quoted in the other voices. The piece includes arpeggios and echo effects. Bach was not only influenced by Buxtehude, but also by Georg Böhm, especially in his chorale partitas. Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten is an example of Böhm's way of varying a chorale melody.

With the Te Deum laudamus we return to Buxtehude; this is one of his greatest works. It includes various forms of keyboard music of the time, such as the free style of the prelude or toccata and two of the main variation forms, the chorale fantasia and the chorale variation. It opens with a free prelude which is followed by the first verse beginning with a bicinium in double counterpoint. During this section the number of voices is extended to five. The second verse is in the style of the chorale fantasia and includes echo passages. The third verse is a trio with the cantus firmus in the tenor. The last verse has the cantus firmus in the pedal, with anticipatory imitation (Vorimitation) in the other voices, and the work closes with a virtuosic coda.

The programme includes two pieces by Mozart which are certainly the most surprising part of this disc. Obviously the mean-tone temperament leads to some strange effects. In their liner-notes the organists argue that this temperament was common in Mozart's time and was even used well into the 19th century. That may be true, but it seems improbable that Mozart used this temperament in his own keyboard works. As a result the Variations on Ah vous dirai-je Maman are not really satisfying, although they are nicely played. The Andante with variations in G are less problematic. Even so, I would have preferred some additional pieces from the 17th or early 18th centuries.

The playing is mostly rather good, in particular the 17th-century works. The organ sounds glorious and its colours are effectively displayed in the variation works. In some pieces, especially Buxtehude's Prelude in d minor and Bach's chorale fantasia, there are too frequent changes in the registration. It is unlikely that organists in those days were assisted in the registration of the organ. Therefore such changes within a piece which moves on without interruption is historically questionable. Bach's Toccata, adagio and fugue in C is well played, especially the adagio, but the toccata is a bit too slow, and that also goes for the fugue.

Even so, organ aficionados will love this disc just as much as the previous volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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