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"'Denn Silbermann wird aus dem Werck erkennt' [For by his work will Silbermann be known] - The Silbermann organ Crostau"

Lucas Pohle, organ; Britta Schwarz, contraltoa, Luise Haugk, oboeb
Dresdner Barockorchester/Lucas Pohlea

rec: May 29 & July 18 - 19, 2018, Crostau, Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche
Rondeau - ROP6160 (© 2018) (65'18")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores JS Bach
Scores Krebs

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Geist und Seele wird verwirret (BWV 35)a; Prelude and fugue in G (BWV 541); Trio sonata in e minor (BWV 528); Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645); Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 647); Johann Ludwig KREBS (1713-1780): Fantasia in f minor (KWV 604)b; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (KWV 703)b; Jesu, meine Freude (KWV 706)b; Komm, heiliger Geist (KWV 707)b

[DB] Inge Marg, Petra Ambrosi, Ales Ambrosi, oboe; Krystof Lada, bassoon; Margret Baumgartl, Uta-Maria Lempert, Franziska Graefe, Dorothee Mühleisen, Elisabeth Starke, violin; Lothar Haas, Susanne Walter, viola; Katharina Holzhey, cello; Ondrej Stajnochr, double bass

One does not necessarily have to go to large towns in Germany to find historical organs. Often small villages are the proud owners of interesting instruments, which have been preserved more or less intact, for instance because the community did not have the money for an adaptation of the instrument to the taste of the 19th century. Whereas many instruments in the larger towns were destroyed or heavily damaged during World War II, historical organs in small villages mostly escaped that fate. The present disc portrays an organ, which dates from 1732 and was built by Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753), member of one of the most famous and influential dynasties of organ builders of the 18th century. He was a representative of its German branch; the Alsace branch was founded by his elder brother Andreas. Gottfried's instruments can be found in Central Germany, and especially in Saxony. The instrument in the Protestant church of Crostau is one of his lesser-known instruments. I can't remember having ever heard it before.

Crostau is a small village in Saxonia, east of Dresden, with less than 2,000 inhabitants. The building contract of the organ has not been preserved, but in 2006 a poem was found which includes this line about Silbermann: "the greatest master, that Saxony can claim to be its own. Adornment from no foreign plumes is needed, for by his work will Silbermann be known". This characterisation gave this disc its name. In 1860/61 the organ was repaired, but no changes were made. In 1868 the old church was demolished, but before that the organ was taken out and then reinstalled in the new church. In 1913 the Quinta 1 1/2 register was removed, and this was reconstructed in 1982. In 1933 the organ was tuned to standard pitch. In 2016 it was restored as much as possible to the state of 1732. It has 20 stops, divided over two manuals and an independent pedal. The pitch is a'=466 Hz, the tuning is Neidhardt II (1724).

On this disc the organ is demonstrated in three different roles. First we hear it solo in works by Johann Sebastian Bach, who knew Silbermann well and regularly played his organs. Lucas Pohle opens with the Prelude and fugue in G (BWV 541), which is rooted in the North German organ school, but also bears the traces of the Italian concerto style, which Bach intensively studied during his years in Weimar. It is played here at a pretty fast tempo by Pohle, but thanks to his articulation and the none too reverberant acoustic, this is no problem.

Then follow two of the six Schübler Chorales; with one exception, these organ arrangements are adaptations of arias from cantatas. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme is taken from Cantata BWV 140, where the tenor sings the second stanza of the hymn, 'Zion hört die Wächter singen'. The cantus firmus is in the left hand and is played here with Gedacktes 8' and Rohr Flöte 4' which results in a rather dark sound. Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten is an arrangement of a duet from Cantata BWV 93; here the cantus firmus is in the pedal. The solo section ends with one of Bach's triosonatas; this set of six was written for the education of his son Wilhelm Friedemann. It is in three movements; the opening vivace is preceded by a short adagio. Again here, and in the last movement, Pohle takes a rather swift tempo. In the middle movement he observes the indication andante, which is faster than an adagio.

The next section is devoted to Johann Ludwig Krebs, Bach's favourite organ pupil, some of whose works are very much like those of his teacher. Here he is represented by four specimens of a genre which became quite popular in the mid-18th century: works for organ with an obbligato part for a wind instrument, either transverse flute, oboe, horn or trumpet. With the exclusion of the flute these were instruments seldom played by amateurs but rather by professional players. It is therefore unlikely that this kind of organ preludes were written for domestic performance. This seems to be confirmed by the organist and scholar Jakob Adlung who in his Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (1758) stated: "Although one is mostly in the habit of giving performances on the organ alone, it is also pleasant if an oboe or other suitable instrument is secretly placed behind or near the organ to perform the chorale with organ accompaniment, either with the music or extemporaneously." This clearly refers to the use of a larger organ, with the obbligato instrument acting as a kind of organ stop. The balance between organ and oboe here is satisfying here, and Luise Haugk plays the cantus firmus in the three chorale arrangements beautifully. She has a more prominent role in the Fantasia in f minor.

Lastly, we hear the organ as an obbligato instrument in a cantata by Bach. He composed several cantatas in which the organ plays a concertante role. In his time the large organ of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig was used both for such parts and for the basso continuo. Today these parts are mostly played on small organs, for various reasons. Apparently in the church of Crotau there is enough space at the organ loft for an instrumental ensemble such as is needed in Cantata 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret: two oboes, taille, strings and basso continuo plus obbligato organ. The cantata was written for 8 September 1726, the 12th Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel of the day was from Mark 6, which tells the story of the healing of the deaf-mute. The libretto of the cantata refers to this, also in a metaphorical way, as in the first aria: "For the miracles they [spirit and soul] know, that people name with joyful shouts, have made them deaf and dumb". The cantata is divided into two parts, which both open with an instrumental movement for organ and the entire ensemble, called concerto (Part one) and sinfonia (Part two) respectively. It is nice to hear the organ part on the kind of organ for which it was intended. Pohle plays it with much panache; the rhythmic pulse comes off perfectly. The instrumental ensemble is excellent as well. The organ also plays an obbligato part in the arias, nicely sung by Britta Schwarz. She is announced as a contralto, but here she sings in the mezzo-soprano range, and that is due to the pitch of the organ. It is in the high Chorton, whereas in Leipzig, where this cantata was first performed, Bach used the low Kammerton (a'=415 Hz). From a historical point of view this cantata and the organ are not a very good match. However, as Bach did not write cantatas with an obbligato organ part before he started working in Leipzig, there was no alternative. Especially in the first aria Ms Schwarz has to explore the upper end of her tessitura. In the other parts of the cantata she feels more comfortable. She sings very well and pays much attention to the text. I was particularly pleased by the way she performs the recitatives.

Crostau has every reason to be proud of this fine instrument, whose qualities are so convincingly demonstrated on this disc. No wonder that there are many musical activities in this church, often with the participation of the organ. It is nice that through this disc organ lovers who don't live in the neighbourhood and probably will never visit the region, now have the opportunity to become acquainted with this instrument.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Britta Schwarz
Luise Haugk
Dresdner Barockorchester

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