Andrea Gabrieli: Motets & Organ Works

Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes
cpo 555 291-2

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Like Bach’s sons, Mendelssohn’s sister and Schumann’s wife (among many others), Andrea Gabrieli is one of those unfortunates whose relative has somehow eclipsed their own valuable output. I remember in my first year at university how much I enjoyed playing through volumes of Andrea Gabrieli’s keyboard music as I “taught myself the piano” (anyone who has heard me play know that it’s very much still work in progress…) At the Early Music Society, we played canzonas by Giovanni Gabrieli and it was only much later in life (at the Gloucester courses run by Alan Lumsden and Philip Thorby) that I really came to appreciate just how good a composer Andrea Gabrieli was.

This new recording on cpo confirms everything I ever thought. Veronika Greuel’s incisivce and extensive booklet note contextualises the music, which the one-to-a-part ensemble, mixing voices with a variety of the instruments one would expect (violin, cornetto, three trombones, dulcian, chitarrone and organ), then perform in a suitably “big” acoustic with lots of air around the notes. There are four organ works by the composer, and a fifth an entabulation by the performer (Edoardo Bellotti on a modified reconstruction of a late 17th-century instrument), neatly played and revealing the breadth of the composer’s mastery of styles. All in all, I cannot imagine a better way to advocate for Andrea’s rightful place in the Early Music Hall of Fame.

Brian Clark


Onder de Hemel van Vlaanderen

Gabriel Wolfer organ, Cassandre Stornetta voice
Label G 016

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This 2021 recital by Gabriel Wolfer is played on an organ built in 2019 by Bertrand Cattiaux for the église Sainte-Jacques, Beurnevésin, in the Swiss Jura. The organ is built in the style of Flemish organs of the 17th century, but with the addition of a pedal organ. The twelve manual registers are available as jeux baladeurs on either of the two manuals, enabling a wide range of registrations, and are scaled and voiced after organs by the Bremser family, dating from the mid-seventeenth century Flanders. The speech is direct and singing, and is well-recorded in this small church. The temperament has 8 pure thirds, and the pitch is A=415Hz. The music, beginning with composers from the Low Countries, Du Caurroy and Sweelink, continues with Dowland and Bull, both known to have had connections there, before returning to more strictly Netherland composers. This is music for manuals only and is well-suited to this instrument, as are the English composers who would not have known the North German style of organ.

For me, the only discordant note is the singer, who has too developed a voice to match the directness and simplicity of the organ. She only sings three numbers – Une jeune filette at the start, the chanson on which the Du Caurroy variations are based and Cornelis de Leeuw’s carol Een kindeken is ons geboren that precedes the Bull version at the end, together with the Purcell Evening Hymn. So it is the organ and its able player who take centre stage.

The programme centres on sets of variations and fantasias, so a variety of sounds embroiders these threads giving us ample opportunity to appreciate the organ’s vocal qualities. In part this is due to its winding, and in part to the action which is clearly all of a piece. The sound is fluid, and I should have liked to hear it with a group of singers, like Vox Luminis, who would match its living, breathing tones so well. I find that I am intrigued, and do not tire of it; the organ builders – who have worked on conserving some distinguished 17th-century organs in France – deserve their reputation. I commend this CD not only for the interesting Flemish programme but also for the chance to hear this interesting and beautifully finished organ.

David Stancliffe


De la Mer du Nord à la Thuringe

Gabriel Wolfer
Label G 011

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This 2019 recital celebrates the fine instrument in the Jesuit church, Porrentruy in the Swiss Jura built by Jürgen Ahrend in 1985, when a young Gabriel Wolfer watched him finishing the voicing, and fell in love with the organ. Made after the style of Silbermann, so within a single case, the blend and finishing of the ranks is an excellent example of Ahrend’s work and the acoustic, though resonant, gives blend without sacrificing clarity. Ludivine Daucourt sings the plainchant verses in the Scheidt Magnificat admirably, and the organ plays at A=440Hz and is tuned in a version of Werkmeister III.

The programme is topped and tailed by Bach – the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV 542) at the start and the Prelude and Fugue in C (BWV 566a) at the end. Interspersing two chorale preludes An Wasserflüssen Babylon (BWV 653) and Jesus Christus unser Heiland (BWV 665) are the Froberger Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Mstà di Ferdinando IV, Buxtehude Toccata in D minor (BuxWV 155) and Sweelink’s four versets on Da pacem, Domine. In the centre is the trio Sonata in E minor (BWV 528). Then follows the Buxtehude Ciaconna in E minor (BuxWV 160) and the six versets of Scheidt’s Magnificat on the 9th tone. The programme is varied, and the organ copes well with the more northerly composers as well as the essentially Thuringian Bach.

Wolfer escapes the temptation to overdo the contrasts in the registration and plays with clarity and a nice flexibility. He clearly knows and loves his instrument, and displays its virtues. It would have been nice if room had been found – or a website link provided – to give us the details of his registration, but the blend achieved in this single-case instrument is a testimony to its builder’s skill. This is a fine introduction to the organ and its curator.

David Stancliffe


Pachelbel: Organ Works · Volume 1

Matthew Owens, The Frobenius Organ of The Queen’s College, Oxford
Resonus RES10285

It looks as if this is to be the first volume of a complete recording of Johann Pachelbel’s organ music and that in itself is to be warmly welcomed. Pachelbel’s organ music occupies a seminal place in the development of a style of composition that is more southern German than northern in style and forms a bridge between the freer, more rhapsodic style of composers like Frescobaldi and Froberger and the more tightly worked contrapuntal compositions of the more northerly school. Although he moved to Eisenach and then Erfurt after a spell at St Stephen’s in Vienna, he later moved to Stuttgart and then to Gotha before returning to his native Nuremberg.

When James Dalton persuaded Queen’s to commission a new mechanical action organ on which he could teach from Frobenius in 1962, there were mutterings: how could such an instrument accompany the psalms to Anglican chant let alone Stanford in Bb? But its beautiful workmanship and clear voice soon won hearts as well as minds, and it remains not only the first but arguably the best Werkprinzip instrument on which to play the Baroque repertoire in England to this day. While it is not a copy of any particular historic instrument, it is undoubtedly inspired by the school of organ builders who created wonderful instruments across north Germany, Holland and Denmark, and is perfect for that repertoire.

But I am not sure why Matthew Owens chose this instrument for Pachelbel. Will all the volumes be recorded there? Pachelbel’s music contains preludes, toccatas, fugues and sets of chorale partitas, as well as chorale preludes. But it also contains music influences more by the Roman Catholic tradition of Italy and Austria, like the Magnificat 5th tone fugues (P314-325) recorded here, and I would have liked to hear some of the splashier music played on an instrument that is less precise and perhaps more colourful, owing more to the central and southern German schools of organ building.

But that said, I enjoyed Matthew Owen’s playing tremendously, and warmly welcome this first CD. Because of the clarity of the Frobenius and the cleanness of his playing, not a note is lost. Yet something is missing: many southern German instruments include a tierce in their chorus mixtures and the Frobenius pedal Fagot is no substitute for a full-length Posaune. It is in the Ciacona in F minor that I think the Frobenius scores most highly, where the variations can be scaled up subtly without needing excessive contrasts in volume.

The sets of chorale variations follow a pattern that sets up a challenge for an organist: how do I register these within an overall framework that underlines the mood of the chorale involved without falling for the temptation to seek variety at any price? With a small organ, however beautifully voiced, there are limits to the possible registrations – limits exploited tellingly in the three chorale preludes (P843 and 844, and P106). With the clarity of Queen’s chapel, we hardly need what I usually lament the absence of – the detailed registration for each piece. Nonetheless, I think this ought to become standard practice for either the liner notes or an accompanying reference to a website.

I much look forward to the next volume.

David Stancliffe


Bach | Mendelssohn: The organ sonatas

Hans-Eberhard Roß (Goll Organ of St Martin, Memmingen)
141:27 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
audite 23.447

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Teaching online has become a new art form, and the experienced teacher Hans-Eberhard Roß has hit on the idea of pairing the six Bach Trio Sonatas (BWV 525-530) with the six Mendelssohn Sonatas as a ‘kind of organ school’, interlacing Bach with Mendelssohn sonata by sonata and using the Goll organ in St Martin, Memmingen in June 2020 to demonstrate them.

The Goll organ was built in 1998 and the website gives some of Roß’ further notes on each movement of the Mendelssohn; only the basic specification of this four-manual organ is given in the liner notes. The organ feels as though it was conceived for the 19th-century French symphonic tradition, but Roß assures us that it is equally good for Mendelssohn and Bach.

He uses plenty of upperwork in the outer movements of the Bach sonatas and the generous acoustic in which the organ speaks does not detract from the clarity of his playing. Solo reeds are used to contrast with the flutes in the slow movements and, a chorus reed is even used for the LH of the Allegro in Sonata 2 in C minor, where, after an exceptionally well-registered and eloquent Largo, the 8’ pedal booms unpleasantly. In the Mendelssohn sonatas, it is the overall sound of the fortes that I find the organ lets him down. Here his brisk tempi, the bright trompette tone and the rich mixtures combine to make it feel a long way from Mendelssohn’s Berlin or the London for which his sonatas were conceived. English organs of the 1840s did not sound remotely like this, and Roß seems determined to display all this modern organ’s registrational possibilities as if to prove how much can be done to bring out the voices of the music before him – indeed in a note on the Audite website he specifically refers to the possibility of a large organ equipped with registrational aids being able to do just that: personally, I find it a distraction. It is like playing the 48 on a piano, where you can ‘bring out’ the returning fugue subject in case your hearers can’t spot it.

So although we can applaud the teacher’s desire to set the Bach and Mendelssohn sonatas side by side, I do not find the use of this instrument or the style of playing very convincing for either. Nor, in spite of his obvious skill and his pedagogical zeal, do I learn much from this pairing; except of course to have Mendelssohn’s debt to JSB underlined at every turn. The pedal solos, the complex fugal writing, even the sustained Bachian arpeggios in the Allegro assai vivace that concludes the First sonata (so reminiscent of the passagework that opens Komm, Heiliger Geist BWV 651) bring Mendelssohn’s debt to Bach vividly before us. This is a welcome reminder: but I doubt if that is what many readers of the EMR are looking for.

David Stancliffe


Frescobaldi: Musiche inedite dai “Codici Chigi”

Ivan Valotti
Tactus TC 580609

It is quite a thought – though a distracting one in this particular context – that Monteverdi knew the sound of this organ, the 1565 Antegnati in Santa Barbara, Mantua. And utterly splendid it is, a rich and full chorus with more than enough variety even for this programme of 31 mainly short pieces. The tuning is quarter-comma meantone (so a few ‘startling’ moments in chromatic passages e. g., the Toccata per organo track 22) and the pitch 462. I quite enjoyed the ‘clunks’ when stops were added or silenced during a piece, though I do wonder if this is historically appropriate, even though everything is within the player’s comfortable reach – not always the case with historic instruments.

The repertoire is music by or at least attributed to Frescobaldi in the Chigi Codex and not published in his lifetime. It is all now published (2017) and we are given volume/page numbers for our own easy reference. There is a blanket ‘World Première Recording’ claim.

I enjoyed the recital very much. The recording is close enough to allow us to appreciate the clarity of the player’s articulation and part-playing while also giving a sense of the building. Tempi are well chosen, allowing both the nobility and display that characterise this music. These pieces do not alter our perception of Frescobaldi one way or the other and in some cases might be the shavings that fell from his workbench, but we should thank the Complete Edition and Ivana Vallotti for sweeping them up.

The booklet (in Italian and English) contains a ten-page essay that both puts the music in its context and offers observations on individual pieces. But the instrument is the star of the show.

David Hansell


Handel: Organ Transcriptions by Walsh and Hook

Simone Vebber
La Bottega Discantica 314

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Transcriptions of Handel’s works for keyboard were intended to make his music widely available and were not made for recital purposes. Shorn of their original context they can seem like simple Gebrauchsmusik. While they do allow the listener to concentrate on Handel’s harmony and counterpoint, without the contrasts between solo and ripieno, or between different vocal groups, sequential repeats can get a bit wearisome. This selection includes two organ concertos, arranged by John Walsh, together with transcriptions by James Hook of two Coronation anthems, ‘Let Thy Hand Be strengthened’ and ‘The King Shall rejoice’. There are also successful arrangements of two choruses from Saul and Judas Maccabeus. Vebber plays on the organ in S. Maria Maddalena, Desenzano on Lake Garda. It includes some pipework from the church’s 17th-century organ by Matteo Cardinali, but was largely rebuilt in 1835-7 by the Serassi brothers. It provides a good range of contrasting stops though some of the big reeds tend to overpower and can sound anomalous, coming as a bit of shock when they substitute for the massed choir in the anthems. The accompanying booklet is in Italian only, and the website provides no translations or further information. Something of a curiosity, then, but the playing is rhythmically consistent, while maintaining good flexibility. The ‘Cuckoo and Nightingale’ concerto bristles with fun and, indeed, the whole recording exudes a strong sense of joie de vivre. Good for raising spirits in these trying times!

Noel O’Regan

Concert-Live performance

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival 2020

Iestyn Davies (countertenor) and Elizabeth Kenny (lute) – Dowland
Richard Gowers (organ) – Handel, Tomkins, Byrd and Tallis
Friday 18 September 2020

Founded by the British cellist Guy Johnson nine years ago, the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival was one of the relatively few events in Britain to have survived this most catastrophic of years for music making, albeit by adapting itself to the prevailing conditions. Four concerts were filmed and presented before members of the owner Lord Salisbury’s family for relay on YouTube on Friday evenings during September. They were given in several of Hatfield House’s historic and spectacular rooms, the one reviewed here taking place in the magnificent Long Gallery (pictured above) and the Armoury, the home of a historic organ built in 1609.

I have to confess to being no great enthusiast for filmed concerts (or opera for that matter), but the close links between the Cecils (the family name of Lord Salisbury) and John Dowland made the gorgeous setting unusually appropriate and fascinating. It was to the courtier Sir Robert Cecil (from 1605 the 1st Earl of Salisbury) that Dowland wrote a famous letter, a mea culpa in which he tried to excuse himself from having become involved with Roman Catholic plotters in Florence on his aborted trip to Rome. Today the letter is housed in the archives of Hatfield House, allowing Iestyn Davies to take a break from the concert (one advantage of filming) to examine it, a touching moment.

In a trailer both Davies and Elizabeth Kenny spoke of how they had found that the historic associations added a dimension to their performances, feeling that the music resounded sympathetically from their surroundings. Certainly, the acoustic of the Long Gallery was lively, giving both voice and lute ample, rounded sonority. The concert included five of Dowland’s best-known songs and a pair of galliards, those dedicated to the King of Denmark and Lady Rich, for solo lute. Given the well-established qualities of both performers, the performances were never likely to be less than highly satisfying, expectations more than fulfilled. The sweetness and beauty of Davies’ countertenor is never in doubt and here he searched beneath the surface of the texts in a way that to my mind he does not always achieve. Reservations largely concerned the slow tempos at which he took the darkest numbers, including ‘Flow my tears’ and ‘In darkness let me dwell’, which for me resulted in both taking on a measure of 21st-century sentimentality that missed on the ambiguous aspects of Dowland’s attachment to the doleful. But the beautiful messa di voce which the concluding line of each verse of ‘Flow my tears’ ended was something to treasure. Otherwise, it might have been good to have had more varied embellishment in strophic songs, particularly one with as many verses as ‘Come again sweet love’, though Davies caught its light-hearted mood to perfection.

The second part of the concert moved to the Armoury for a short recital given by Richard Gowers on the 1609 organ supplied by John Haan, a Dutchman. One of the few organs from the period to survive, it also retains the beautiful decorations by Rowland Bucket, the artist responsible for many of the interior decorations of Hatfield House. The most substantial piece Gowers played was the second of Handel’s Six Fugues, while he also included the same composer’s mimetic voluntary known as ‘Flight of Angels’, Thomas Tomkins’ odd Voluntary in D and brief works by Byrd and Tallis. The organ has an extraordinarily translucent sound, yet also an agreeable mellowness. The playing was fluent, if not without the odd mishap.

Brian Robins


Organic Creatures

Medieval organs composed – Decomposed – Recomposed
Catalina Vicens
Timings not available (2 CDs)
Consouling Sounds SOUL0139

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Catalina Vicens sets out in these two CDs to produce something rather different from the usual early keyboard recording. She avoids the small amount of surviving keyboard repertoire and, instead, gives us a selection of early vocal music from Hildegard of Bingen to Henry VIII, passing through some Notre Dame Organum, the Italian Ars Nova, John Dunstable and Heinrich Isaac. This is supplemented by a range of contemporary music by Prach Boondiskulchok, Carson Cooman, Ivan Moody, Olli Vitaperko and Vicens herself. She uses a number of modern copies of small Medieval organs by Winold van de Putten and others, as well as two historic instruments: that in the Andreaskirche in Ostönnen from c. 1425 (reckoned to be the oldest still playable) and the other from 1531 in the Krewerd’s Mariakerk. The sounds she produces are equally not always those which might be expected: the organ pipes can resemble Japanese flutes, panpipes or foghorns, with flutter-tonguing and lots of drones. Other noises sometimes intrude and have deliberately not been edited out. The most experimental pieces are the two by Boondiskulchok and that by Moody, which produce some fascinating sounds. Vicens’ own music generally lies closer to early models, though with some experimental resonances too. Overall, there is an affinity between the Medieval and contemporary tracks which allows a seamless movement between them, making the whole production something of an extended meditation with a strong sense of improvisation. It has grown on me and is certainly a worthwhile undertaking, with excellent recording quality. My only gripe is with the lack of information about instruments and music in the beautifully designed booklet – or on the website to which the listener is directed. We don’t even get timings for the tracks which vary considerably in length. The musicologist in me wished for more details but perhaps the recording is aimed at a different kind of audience!

Noel O’Regan


Le Grand Jeu

French Baroque organ favourites
Collection L’Age d’or de l’orgue française No. 4
Gaétan Jarry
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS024
Music by d’Angelbert, Charpentier, Corrette, Couperin, Dandrieu, de Grigny, Handel, Lully, Marchand, Purcell & Rameau

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CD cover of Gaétan Jarry

Not for the first time, the in-house Versailles CD production team have come up with a disc that isn’t really quite what it says it is, but that might well catch the eye of those browsing in the palace shop, not least because of the picture on the front of the packaging.

Given the working title of ‘French Baroque Organ Favourites,’ I doubt that any EMR-reading organists would have come up with a programme which included Dido’s Lament and/or Handel’s Sheba and in which Corrette out-gunned Couperin by eight and a half minutes to one and a half. And not a Noël in sight. Yes, there is some organ music – the tiny Couperin, more substantial Dandrieu and Grigny – but most of the programme is arrangements principally of Rameau and Lully.

It’s all very well played of course, though some of what we hear wouldn’t be possible without modern recording trickery, and we do get a good trip around the organ’s sound-world (it is a marvellous instrument) but for me that isn’t really the point. You realise how distinctive and rich the true repertoire is when track 4 begins and Dandrieu’s splendid Easter Offertoire succeeds a pair of contredanses by Rameau. The word ‘idiomatic’ sprang to mind, and the organ sounded so much happier.

The booklet essays (French, English & German) are long on gush and short on real information about the music, though there is a useful biography of the organ and some more good pictures. Overall, however, this is not really EMR/HIP material.

David Hansell