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CD reviews

Organs in North Germany

[I] "Arp-Schnitger-Orgel Norden"
Thiemo Janssena, Agnes Luchterhandtb, organ
rec: April 25 - 27, 2005, Norden, Ludgerikirche
MDG - 906 1363-6 (© 2005) (72'08")

[II] "Vorbilder und Entwicklungen" (Models and developments)
Ingo Bredenbach, organ
rec: August 27 - 28, 2006, Hinte, Ev.-Ref. Kirche
Ambiente - ACD 1023 (© 2006) (79'56")

[I] Francisco Correa DE ARAUXO (1584-1654): Tiento LIII de medio registroa; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): An Wasserflüssen Babylon (BWV 653b)b; Toccata in F (BWV 540,1)b; Georg BÖHM: Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtiga; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Canzona in C (BuxWV 166)b; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BuxWV 188)a; Toccata in d minor (BuxWV 155)a; William BYRD (1543-1623): Passamezzo Pavanab; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Echo ad manuale duplex forte & lene (SSWV 128)a; Arnolt SCHLICK (before 1460-after 1520/21): Ascendo ad patrem meum (versus 2)ab; Matthias WECKMANN (1615/16-1674): Magnificat 8. tonib
[II] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Prelude and fugue in d minor (BWV 549a); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Vater unser im Himmelreich; Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, partita; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1657-1707): Praeludium in G (BuxWV 162); Praeludium in a minor (BuxWV 153); Vater unser im Himmelreich (BuxWV 219); Jacob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651): Vater unser im Himmelreich; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Canzon in F; Praeambulum in d minor; Praeambulum in d minor; Vater unser im Himmelreich; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Psalm 116; Ricercar in a minor; Toccata in a minor; Vater unser im Himmelreich

North Germany is a landscape which is very rich in interesting organs. There are a respectable number of historical organs alongside modern organs which are built after historical models. The state in which these organs are is different. In many cases attempts have been made to undo the "improvements" of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is mainly in the sphere of temperament where often decisions have been taken which are regrettable both from an artistic and a historical perspective. These two discs present two specimen of the types of organs I referred to. The organ in Norden is a historical organ, whereas the instrument in Hinte is a 20th century organ based on historical models.

The city of Norden is in East Frisia, and in this region the Ludgerikirche is the largest. 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 from Hamburg. He built an organ for which he reused 10 registers from the Evers organ. The organ consisted of 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 the organ 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 many trouble.

This, of course, reflects today's practice in liturgy and concerts. It is difficult to imagine a liturgy in Lutheran churches in Germany without the music of Bach, and so an organ which is not suitable to play his music is rather difficult to imagine. But from a historical point of view this adaptation is regrettable, as every compromise means that the music which was written for an organ like this can't sound like it was meant to. At the same time Bach's music still doesn't quite fit with the organ as the Toccata in F (BWV 540,1) shows. On this disc there are some very strong dissonances, in particular in closing bars, which very likely were not intended by Bach.

This disc presents an overview of the kind of repertoire which can be played, albeit with some compromises. It shows that it isn't just German music which can be performed. After all, meantone temperament was in general use in Europe during the 16th and 17th century. Still, the disposition of this organ also plays its part, and a piece like the Tiento LIII by de Arauxo can never sound here as on a Spanish organ.

One of the best pieces on this disc is the Echo ad manuale by Samuel Scheidt. Here the various Werke of the organ can be used to realize the echo effects. Scheidt creates the illusion of a crescendo by increasing the speed of the dialogue between the various manuals. Also interesting is the piece by Arnolt Schlick, which is written in 10 parts, four of which should be played on the pedal. One wonders how this was intended to be played, but here both organists share the parts. It is a fascinating and monumental piece that works extremely well on this organ.

As far as the performances are concerned, they are quite good without always being very captivating. In a number of cases I think the tempi are a bit too slow. Bach's already mentioned Toccata, for instance, should have been played a little faster, although I can imagine the acoustics to impose restrictions on the speed of the performances. But I also think the articulation and the differentiation between the notes could have been stronger. Dubious from a historical point of view is the changes in the registration within pieces. It is the combination of music and organ, though, which is the main attraction of this disc. The recording engineer has done a very fine job here, considering the problematic acoustics of a large church like this. On this disc the organ gets the opportunity to shine in its full glory.

With the second disc we remain in East Frisia, and again we meet Jürgen Ahrend, who restored the organ in Norden. In the church of Hinte Johann Friedrich Wenthin built an organ between 1776 and 1781. In the early 20th century the decision was taken to replace this organ with a new organ with pneumatic action. As this instrument was too large for the old case this was considerably changed. Unfortunately all remains of the old organ itself - which probably contained some elements of its predecessor - were destroyed. After only 50 years the new organ began to show technical defects. In 1958 Jürgen Ahrend and his associate Gerhard Brunzema built a new organ in the reconstructed case of the Wenthin organ. It was one of the earliest attempts to build an instrument in historical tradition. It is in particular suitable for the repertoire of the North German organ school. The temperament is 'modified mean-tone'.

The title of this disc, translated "Models and developments", gives a survey of the history of organ music from Sweelinck, through his German pupils, to Johann Sebastian Bach. The thread is the chorale 'Vater unser im Himmelreich', whose text was written by Martin Luther, and whose melody is anonymous, probably dating from the Middle Ages. Many composers have written compositions on this melody, so there is a large repertoire to choose from. It is disappointing that Ingo Bredenbach has chosen mostly well-known, and therefore frequently recorded pieces. The only exception is probably the three versets written by Jacob Praetorius. The other works on the programme are equally well-known.

The main interest of this disc is the organ which is historically important as it points into the direction of what was going to be common practice in the decades to come: to restore organs to their original state or to reconstruct organs on the basis of historical data. It is one of many interesting instruments which have been built since. A recording of this instrument is therefore appropriate, and fortunately the acoustics of this church allow the organ to show its full potential.

Ingo Bredenbach's performances are stylish but not very imaginative. As almost all pieces on this disc are available in more than one other recording it is not his interpretations which are the main significance of this disc. I also think some of the tempi are too slow, for instance the fugal sections of Buxtehude's Praeludium in a minor (BuxWV 153.

In general I think this disc is only recommendable to those who have a more than average interest in historical organs and organ building. The booklet contains information about the organ, the programme and about the chorale 'Vater unser im Himmelreich', but only in German. But at least the disposition and the registrations of every single piece is given.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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