musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Danziger Barock I - Volckmar, Gronau, Mohrheim"

Martin Rost, organ

rec: Sept 2013, Paslek, St. Bartholomäus-Kirche
Paschen Records - R18-0005-0001 (© 2013) (58'28")
Liner-notes: D/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

Friedrich Gottlob GLEIMANN (c1713-1782): Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält; Daniel Magnus GRONAU (c1685-1747): Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält; Friedrich Christian MOHRHEIM (1719-1780): Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein; Trio in G (andante); Trio in G (allegro); Vater unser im Himmelreich; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (manualiter); Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern; Theophil Andreas VOLCKMAR (1686-1768): Sonate I in F; Sonata II in d minor; Sonata VI in C; Taniec Polsky I; Taniec Polsky II

The building, restoration or reconstruction of an organ is a good opportunity to present it on disc to a wider circle of organ lovers than the people in the surrounding area. It is even better when it can be presented with organ music which can be connected to the instrument. The present disc is a good example: the organ in Paslek - or Prussian Holland as it was called when it was part of Germany - was built by Andreas Hildebrandt, an organ builder from Danzig (today Gdánsk in Poland) and that makes it the ideal instrument for the performance of music by organist-composers who worked in that city in the 18th century.

The organ was built from 1717 to 1719; Hildebrandt made use of material from the previous organ which dated from 1597. The instrument has several remarkable features, among them a transposition device which allows one of the manuals - connected to the Oberwerk - to be played in the low pitch used for instrumental music (Kammerton). There were several repairs during the 18th century and in the 19th century it was partly adapted to the fashion of the time; fortunately the pipework was preserved. The organ then fell victim to inappropriate restoration methods in the 20th century. In 2010 the reconstruction of the Hildebrandt organ took place on the basis of a comparison with the other extant organs by this builder.

Martin Rost presents the organ in the first of two recordings with music by composers who were active in Danzig. In the 17th century the city enjoyed a rich musical life in which the churches and their organists played a major role. Some organists are still known, such as Paul Siefert, a pupil of Sweelinck, and Crato Bütner. In the 18th century the standards in church music declined, and the organ became gradually the only instrument in church. The present disc focuses on three organists of this time.

There is very little biographical information about Daniel Magnus Gronau. We don't know where or when he was born or who his teachers were. We are also unaware whether he was active elsewhere before his time in Danzig. From 1717 to 1719 he was active as organist of St Anne's Chapel, from 1719 to 1724 he played the choir organ of St Catherine's, then until 1730 the choir organ of St Mary's, one of the town's main churches. In the latter year he was appointed organist of the other main church, St John's. Not long ago I reviewed a Brilliant Classics disc with five chorale variations by Gronau which were presented as the only compositions from his pen which have been preserved. What the organist, Matteo Venturini, who also wrote the liner-notes, apparently did not know is that in 2012 Martin Rost and Krzysztof Urbaniak discovered a microfilm with 40 further sets of chorale variations. Originally Gronau had planned to compose variations on all existing chorale melodies but this didn't materialize. When Gronau died the chorale variations he had written were bound in two volumes. The second of these was rediscovered in 1909 and in 1927 four of these were published. In 1988 a fifth was printed on the basis of a copy once owned by the editor of 1927. The original volume had disappeared during or shortly after World War II. The microfilm was discovered in the Newberry Library Chicago. A complete edition is planned and the whole set will be released on disc. I cannot wait for this, because Gronau is one of the great German organ composers of the 18th century and the chorale variations which have been recorded by Venturini are excellent. This is confirmed by Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält which is new to the catalogue. It is preceded by a chorale setting from the pen of Friedrich Gottlieb Gleimann who was his successor as organist at St John's.

Whereas Gronau composed in the baroque idiom, Theophil Andreas Volckmar - although only one year his junior - belongs to a different stylistic period. He was from Stettin - today Szczecin in Poland - and succeeded his father as organist of the Church of St Peter and St Paul there in 1707. From 1712 onwards he was organist of the Trinity Church and then of St Catherine's. Twice he applied for the position of organist of St Mary's but he was rejected. The reasons given in a document of 1720: his compositions, being characterised as "vain fancies", his harmful way of pedal playing, the discord with the Kapellmeister and his conduct in the churches he had served. In 1730 he moved to Köslin (Koszalin in Poland) and returned to Stettin in 1733. On this disc we hear three sonatas; the second disc will include the remaining three. The Sonata II in d minor has the form of a prelude and fugue; the prelude is a sequence of full chords with a prominent role for the pedal, interrupted by passages in galant style. The Sonata VI in C largely follows the same pattern, although there the two movements are called adagio and allegro. The Sonata I in F comprises two allegros; the second ends with a toccatalike episode, which seems to refer to the north German organ school of the 17th century.

The third composer is from a later generation. Friedrich Christian Mohrheim was from Neumarkt in Thuringia and attended the Thomasschule in Leipzig from 1733 to 1736. He was one of Bach's pupils and acted as one of his copyists. His first appearance in Danzig is documented for 1747. In 1750 he married the daughter of Balthasar Christian Freißlich, Kapellmeister of St Mary's, and also became his substitute. When his father-in-law died in 1764 he was appointed his successor; he held this position until his death. He said of his own compositions that they were written in the "fashionable delicate taste". His extant organ works comprise four trios and 10 chorale arrangements which are written in the galant idiom. The specimens recorded here show how different the treatment of the chorale melody is from what was common in earlier times, for instance in the works of the north German organ school of the 17th century. This disc and its sequel will contain his complete organ oeuvre.

Martin Rost is one of Germany's leading experts in historical organs and the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. He is always able to explore the features of the organs he plays in the interest of a best possible interpretation of the repertoire he has chosen. The booklet includes the disposition of the organ as well as a list of registrations. Unfortunately the liner-notes are only in German and Polish. It shouldn't withhold any organ aficionado to purchase this disc devoted to an important and very interesting organ and repertoire which is largely unknown.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

CD Reviews