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Historical Organs in Germany

[I] The Erasmus Bielfeldt Organ at St Wilhadi in Stade
Hauke Ramm, organ

rec: April 2010, Stade, St. Wilhadi
ambitus - amb 96 946 (68'23")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist (BWV 651) [2]; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 659) [2]; Prelude and fugue in b minor (BWV 544); Sonata in e minor (BWV 528); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Partita Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707): Prelude in d minor (BuxWV 140); Johann Ludwig KREBS (1717-1780): Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr; Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847): Sonata in d minor, op. 65,6 [6]

[II] "Orgelschätze im Alten Land" (Organ Treasures in the Alte Land)
Martin Böcker, organ; Peter Golon, speakera

rec: Nov 17 - 19, 2009, Grünendeich, St. Marien
ambitus - amb 96 945 (72'42")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon (18th C, Stade?): Du Friedensfürst Herr Jesu Christ; Johann Sebastian BACH: Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 711); Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 715); Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 717); Dietrich BUXTEHUDE: Canzonetta in g minor (BuxWV 173); Danket dem Herrn, der er ist freundlich (BuxWV 181); Toccata in G (BuxWV 164); Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789): Sonata IV in C [4]; Johann Christian KITTEL (1732-1809): Dir, dir, o Höchster [5]; Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ [5]; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele [5]; Vater unser im Himmelreich [5]; Was Gott tut, das ist wohl getan [5]; Was mein Gott will, gscheh [5]; Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Suonata I 'Der Streit zwischen David und Goliath'a [1]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Fantasia in c minor (TWV 33,6) (tempo di minuetto; largo) [3]; Fantasia in F (TWV 33,5) (vivace) [3]

[III] "Himmelsklänge - Historische Orgel zu Niederndodeleben" (Heavenly sounds - The historical organ in Niederndodeleben)
Barry Jordan, organ

rec: April 18, 2011, Niederndodeleben, Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul
Querstand - VKJK1101 (© 2011) (79'39")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH: Partite diverse sopra Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen (BWV 770); Prelude and fugue in c minor (BWV 546); Prelude and fugue in c minor (BWV 549); Trio in c minor (BWV 585); Georg BÖHM: Partita Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht; Johann Ludwig KREBS: Trio in F (Krebs-WV 446); Johann KUHNAU: Suonata III 'Jacobs Heyrath' [1]; Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748): Concerto del Signor Telemann in c minor (LV 136)

Sources: [1] Johann Kuhnau, Musicalische Vorstellung einiger Biblischer Historien in 6 Sonaten, 1700; [2] Johann Sebastian Bach, Achtzehn Choräle von verschiedener Art, 1723?; [3] Georg Philipp Telemann, Fantaisies pour le clavessin, 1732/33; [4] Johann Wilhelm Hertel, 6 Sonate, op. 1, 1756; [5] Johann Christian Kittel, Vierstimmige Choräle mit Vorspielen, 1803; [6] Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Sechs Sonaten für die Orgel, op. 65, 1845

The perhaps most famous German organ maker in history has been Arp Schnitger (1648-1719). His firm, after his death continued by two of his sons, was one of the most important in northern Europe, and built more than 170 instruments. Most of those which have survived can be found in Germany and in the Netherlands. Although none of the three organs which are documented on the discs to be reviewed here were built by Schnitger, they can be related in one way or another to him.

Schnitger started his firm in Stade. This North-German town has two historical churches, the St Cosmae et Damiani and the St Wilhadi. The former and its organ are more famous than the latter, and that makes the disc which is devoted to this organ especially welcome. Arp Schnitger's uncle Berendt Huß, who worked at the organ of St Cosmae, also had been commissioned to build an organ in St Wilhadi. As he died in 1676 the organ remained unfinished, and Huß' widow delegated the continuation of the work to Schnitger. It was damaged during a Danish bombardment of Stade in 1712. Schnitger, who had moved his workshop to Hamburg in 1682, repaired the organ in the following years. But in 1725 the organ and the steeple were destroyed by a bolt of lightning. In 1731 Erasmus Bielfeldt, who probably was from Stade and had learnt he trade of organ building from a former pupil of Schnitger, started the construction of a new organ; it was finished in 1735. During the 19th and 20th centuries it was adapted to new aesthetic ideals. At some time even a replacement by a new organ was considered, but this never materialized. In the 1980s the organ was restored to its original state by Jürgen Ahrend. The organ has three manuals and an independent pedal. The pitch is a'=473 Hz, and the temperament Werckmeister II (modified).

On this organ Hauke Ramm plays an appropriate programme of German music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Only the choice of Mendelssohn's Sonata in d minor seems a little odd, considering the disposition and temperament. It is always hard to decide what to play if one wants to demonstrate the features of an organ. On the one hand, they come particularly well to the fore if familiar repertoire is played, which allows a comparison with performances on other organs. On the other hand, many music lovers probably don't need to have umpteen recordings of the same piece. Almost all pieces on this disc belong to the familiar repertoire; the two chorale arrangements by Johann Ludwig Krebs are the exception. They are well played, but the appreciation could partly be due to a lack of competitive performances. I am not very impressed by the rest of the programme. Hauke Ramm's interpretations are in line with what is common nowadays in historical performance practice, but that in itself is not enough. The performances are too straightforward and not speech-like enough. In the Prelude in d minor (BuxWV 140) by Buxtehude the improvisatory elements are underexposed. Ramm also changes the registration too often. In the Partita Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten by Georg Böhm which is for manuals only the repetition of the chorale line is sometimes played on another manual in order to create an echo effect. I don't believe this was intended by the composer. The two large works by Bach are a bit flat, and the chorale arrangement Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland doesn't come off that well. The various ornaments Ramm plays are not very appropriate and are rather damaging the overall result. Because of the largely familiar repertoire and the generally middle-of-the-road performances this disc is mainly interesting because of the organ.

Not far from Stade is Gründendeich in the so-called 'Alte Land', situated between Stade and Hamburg at the Elbe. As Schnitger first worked from Stade and later from Hamburg many organs in this region are of his making: with the exception of two he worked in every church in the 'Alte Land'. One of the exceptions is the St Marien in Grünendeich, where in 1766 an organ was constructed by Dietrich Christoph Gloger. Even so, there is some connection with Schnitger as he started his career in the firm of Erasmus Bielfeldt, mentioned above, who was a 'grandpupil' of Schnitger and very much worked in his tradition. The organ in Gründendeich is different from most organs in the region as it has two manuals and 17 stops, and the pedal is only attached to the Great (Hauptwerk). In his liner-notes Martin Böcker suggests the reason could have been a lack of space. The organ was twice repaired in the later 18th century. In the 19th and 20th century the organ was so much changed that very little of the original concept remained intact. Between 2002 and 2009 the organ was restored and reconstructed by Rowan West in Altenahr, and now reflects the state of the instrument as it was built by Gloger. The pitch is "half tone over normal pitch" - more precise information would have been preferable - and the temperament is unequal "according to Bach/Barnes".

"One special feature was the divided reed stop Cornet 2'/Dulcian 16'. With this stop it was not possible for the organist to play a uniform tone colour with the Great. This stop was suitable for playing solo parts in bass or treble", Martin Böcker writes in his liner-notes. This is particularly interesting as he plays the anonymous chorale arrangement Du Friedensfürst Herr Jesu Christ which could have been written specially for this organ as the title indicates the registration: "Corn: et Dulc:". As the organ is relatively small and the pedal is attached Martin Böcker has selected mostly pieces which don't need a pedal. The exceptions are the compositions by Bach and the variations on Danket dem Herrn by Buxtehude. Johann Kuhnau's 'Biblical sonatas' are scored for two manuals, and can be played on any keyboard instrument. It works well on this organ. Non-German speakers will probably skip track 9, where Peter Golon reads Kuhnau's long introduction in German, which takes more than 6 minutes. Particularly interesting in regard to repertoire are the Sonata IV in C by Hertel, which is stylistically close to the organ sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and the organ chorales by Kittel. These give a good impression how composers of the late 18th century treated the traditional Lutheran hymns. Martin Böcker gives excellent performances, and although the acoustic is rather dry it doesn't damage the overall impression of this recording.

With the last disc we are in Niederndodeleben, a village in the German state Saxonia-Anhalt. The first organ in the Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul was built in 1611 by Heinrich Compenius the younger, which was destroyed during the Thirty Year's War. It was only in 1724, after the church had been remodelled, that the decision was taken to build a new organ. It is likely that Matthias Hartmann was responsible for the building of the organ. Here is a connection with Arp Schnitger as well, because Hartmann was a pupil of the famous organ builder. Hartmann incorporated the few components of the Compenius organ which had survived. In 1750/51 the organ was expanded with a second manual by Hartmann's son Johann Georg. Between 2000 and 2002 the organ builder Jörg Dutschke restored the organ and reconstructed some parts of it. The organ has two manuals and an independent pedal. The pitch is a'=466 Hz, the temperament after Keller.

The programme Barry Jordan has chosen is well suited to the organ, probably with the exception of the biblical sonata by Kuhnau. That could be because of the temperament. The fourth movement depicts the deceit of Laban, the sixth Jacob's distress over this deceit. The dissonances Kuhnau has made use of would have come off better at an organ in meantone temperament. Barry Jordan's playing is alright, although - like Hauke Ramm - he is doing too little to bring the music to life. The Concerto in c minor by Walther, for instance, could have been more brilliant and performed with more fantasy. It has to be said, though, that this is a difficult task considering the unfavourable acoustical circumstances. There is almost no reverberation; I don't know whether this is a matter of recording technique or reflects the actual acoustic of the church. The organ and the music have no chance to breathe, and that is what they need. Therefore a piece like Bach's Prelude and fugue in c minor which Jordan plays quite well, is massive and lacks transparency. Under more forthcoming acoustical circumstances this disc would have made a considerably more positive impression. The programming could have been a bit more adventurous. Those who are interested in historical organs certainly won't like to miss this disc, though, as it documents a relatively little-known instrument.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Barry Jordan
organ St. Wilhadi, Stade
organ St. Marien, Grünendeich

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