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Organ Portraits

[I] "Schlosskirche Meisenheim am Glan"
Elisabeth Ullmann, organ
rec: April 5 - 7, 2009, Meisenheim am Glan, Schlosskirche St. Wolfgang
IFO Classics - ORG 7233.2 (© 2009) (68'26")

[II] "Reichenthal"
Gustav Auzinger, organ
rec: Oct 22, 2008 (live), Reichenthal, Pfarrkirche
ORF - SACD 3065 (© 2009) (64'09")

[I] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Fantasia in C (BWV 570); Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BWV 697); Lob sei dem allmächt'gen Gott, fughetta (BWV 704); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, chorale variations; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): Noël sur les flûtes; Jean Adam GUILAIN (c1680-after 1739): Suite du 1er ton [4]; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Concerto No 1 in F [6]; Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Toccata IV [2]; Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706): Arietta con variationes in F [3]; Ciacona in F; François ROBERDAY (1624-1680): 9ème Fugue & Caprice sur le même sujet [1]; 12ème Fugue [1]
[II] anon: Elevazione; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot (BWV 678) [5]; Passacaglia and fugue in c minor (BWV 582); Sonata in E flat (BWV 525); Giuseppe GHERARDESCHI (1759-1815): Rondo in G; Giovanni Battista MARTINI (1706-1784): Al post comunio; Grave (per la Benedizione); Toccata (per l'Offertorio); Nicolò MORETTI (1763-1821): Sonata ad uso sinfonia; Johann Valentin RATHGEBER (1682-1750): Aria Pastorella [7]; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in D (K 287); Sonata in D (K 288); Sonata in G (K 328)

(Sources: [1] François Roberday, Fugues et Caprices à quatre parties, 1660; [2] Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690; [3] Johann Pachelbel, Hexachordum Apollinis, 1699; [4] Jean Adam Guilain, Pièces d'orgue pour le Magnificat, 1706; [5] Johann Sebastian Bach, Clavier-Übung, III, 1739; [6] Johann Adolf Hasse, Six Concertos for Organ, 1742; [7] Johann Valentin Rathgeber, Musikalisches Zeitvertreib, op. 22, 1743)

Some countries in Europe have a large number of important historical organs. Some of them are famous, and rightly so; they are often used for recordings. But the organ landscape is much larger. Often interesting organs can be found in villages and small towns. It is important that they are documented, which often happens after a restoration has taken place.

Whereas in recordings of the famous organs, built by the likes of Arp Schnitger or Gottfried Silbermann, the music is the central issue, discs which present lesser-known organs are mostly used to present the organ in all its dimensions. And that explains why sometimes music is performed for which that particular organ is not the most obvious choice. Here that is the case at the second disc, in which some works by Johann Sebastian Bach are played at an organ in Austria, whose character makes it most suitable for repertoire from Italy and southern Germany.

One may think that playing French repertoire at a German organ as that in the castle church of Meisenheim also falls into that category. But some German organ builders were strongly influenced by the organ building in France. This organ was built by Johann Philipp and Johann Heinrich Stumm in 1767/68. They were members of a dynasty of organ builders which from the early 18th century until well into the 19th belonged to the most prominent in Germany. Within seven generations they constructed more than 370 instruments, 140 of which still exist. This particular instrument belongs to the larger organs in the region, with 29 stops - partly divided between descant and bass - on two manuals and pedal. The instrument has been preserved largely unchanged, and therefore gives a good insight in the style of organ building of the Stumm family.

As one would expect the organ was repaired and partly changed during history, but it is remarkable that the disposition remained largely unchanged. In 1968 the original disposition was restored, and in 1993 a complete restoration after strictly historical principles took place. The presence of virtually original reed stops makes this organ well-suited to play French music.

The programme Elisabeth Ullmann has recorded shows the wide range of colours this organ can produce. Of course, this is not a French organ, and if one looks for the most appropriate instrument to perform French classical organ music, one should look for another instrument. But the music by Guilain, Daquin and Roberday gives a very good impression of the French influences in this organ. Also the choice of the Toccata IV by Muffat, who was a strong advocate of the mixture of the French, the Italian and the German style, is obvious. But German composers were also influenced by the French style, and that is certainly the case with Bach. In particular the Fantasia in C is played with French colours, and there is nothing wrong with that. The more strictly German pieces also fare well here, for instance those by Pachelbel. The Concerto No 1 in C by Hasse is the most 'modern' piece here, written in the galant idiom. But it works well here, showing the 'lighter' side of the organ.

Elisabeth Ullmann plays this programme very well, and the recording is excellent. The disposition of the organ is given, the registration of the various pieces is not. Also unfortunate is that the whole booklet is only in German, without an English translation. This organ and this disc deserve better.

The other organ is not historical, although the case is. Originally it housed an organ which Franz Xaver Chrismann built for the Stadtpfarrkirche of Steyr in Upper Austria in 1777. In the last decade of the 19th century this organ was rebuilt in romantic style, and the case was moved to Reichenthal, also in Upper Austria, where it first was used for a provisional instrument. In 2008 a new organ was built in this case, by Pirchner of Steinach in Tirol. It was inspired by the original concept of Chrismann, and therefore it also contains Italian elements. The tuning is unequal temperament after Neidhardt.

The choice of repertoire is inspired by the organ in that we hear compositions by Italian composers of the 18th century. Almost all of Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas are specifically written for the harpsichord, but some also work well at the organ. That is also the case with the three sonatas Gustav Auzinger has chosen. Giovanni Battista Martini, better known as 'Padre' Martini, uses polyphony in his organ music, which is written in the galant idiom. That is also the case with the Aria Pastorella by Johann Valentin Rathgeber, a composer whose works were especially popular in Southern Germany. The anonymous Elevazione as well as the pieces by Gherardeschi and Moretti show a development towards a more secular style of organ composition. This kind of pieces were performed during liturgy, and in particular Moretti's Sonata ad uso sinfonia shows that triviality isn't far away. But this part of the programme offers an interesting impression of the development in late 18th-century organ music in the southern part of Europe.

I would have liked Gustav Auzinger to confine himself to this kind of repertoire. I understand that he wanted to show that this organ is suitable for a wider range of repertoire. But he should have chosen lesser-known pieces; even in Bach's oeuvre one can find compositions which are not that well-known. The pieces Auzinger has chosen are too obvious; moreover, the performances are not such that they are an worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

The Sonata in E flat is well played, but in the first movements the mechanism of the organ is clearly audible, in particular while listening through headphones. I have the impression that the touch of the instrument is rather heavy, which makes it hard to play really fast. That could explain that the last movement is too slow. The Passacaglia and fugue in c minor is a big disappointment. The sound is thick and lacks any transparency. In particular in the passacaglia the middle voices are difficult to hear because of the dominance of the upper voice and the pedal. This is largely due to the unsatisfying registration (which isn't given in the booklet). The tempo is also too slow, and as a result this performance is tiring and heavy.

The programme notes are in German and in English, but they are rather short. The disposition of the organ is listed.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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