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Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (ca. 1595-1663)
Organ Music

Kyrie summum *
Jesu, wollst uns weisen
Magnificat 8 Toni
Canzon [ex F]
O Lux beata Trinitas *
Toccata [ex G]
O Gott wir dancken deiner güte, vs. 1-2
Kom Heyliger Geist
Erbarm dich meiner o Herre Gott, vs. 1-2
Fantasia ex G
Magnificat 6 Toni *
Præambulum ex D
Galliarda ex D
Alleluja, laudem dicite Deo nostro
Gwendolyn Toth, organ
Jessica Tranzillo, chant *
Recorded on the Meantone Organ in the Jacobuskerk, Zeerijp, Holland, August 1995
ZEFIRO RECORDINGS ZR102 [78:29]


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A short number of weeks ago I reviewed an excellent Zefiro disc by Gwendolyn Toth of Bachís Goldberg Variations played on a lautenwerk. The disc at hand takes us further back in time to the 17th Century and to the music of the masterful composer Heinrich Scheidemann.

Scheidemann initially studied with this father who was the organist at the St. Katherine Church in Hamburg. At the age of fourteen, the St. Katherine congregation funded a three-year apprenticeship for Scheidemann to study in Amsterdam with the Dutch master J. P. Sweelinck. The congregation expected Scheidemann to return to Hamburg after the three years and become its organist, and Scheidemann did just that. He remained the St. Katherine organist until his death in 1663.

Why would Scheidemann compose, teach, and perform in Hamburg for such a long period? Essentially, Hamburg was an economic haven during the 17th century as many merchants and artists migrated there for its religious, commercial and artistic freedoms. Scheidemann led a fine life in Hamburg and was even excused from paying taxes and other fees that ordinary citizens of the area had to contribute.

Scheidemannís study with Sweelinck was a tremendous boost to his reputation, architectural proficiency and artistry. In Hamburg, Sweelinck was known as the "maker of Hamburg organists". Each of the four major churches in Hamburg had organists who had studied under Sweelinck, another being Jacob Prætorius who shared the Hamburg limelight with Scheidemann.

Of these two great composers, Scheidemann was considered the more affable in personality and in music composition. He was also the more inventive composer, helping shape the chorale prelude and initiating the use of echo patterns. Scheidemann was the leading figure of the North German Organ Movement in the first half of the 17th century. His music ranges from the sublime to the majestic, set through a blend of severity and sweetness. Actually, I canít emphasize enough that this mix of severity and sweetness is at the heart of the appeal of Scheidemannís organ music, and that it is important for performers to use organs that naturally highlight the mix.

Gwendolyn Toth plays her Scheidemann program on the meantone organ built by Theodorus Faber of Groningen, Holland in the years 1645-1651; reconstruction was accomplished in the late 1970s by Bernhardt H. Edskes and S.F. Blank. This is a perfect organ for Scheidemannís music in that the meantone temperament with its incisive key traits tends to result in the strengthening of both the severity and sweetness of Scheidemannís organ music. Although the Faber organ is a small one with two manuals and nineteen stops, it offers ample scope and power.

Toth gives us a generous and varied group of works played in splendid fashion. Her blend of severity and sweetness is always compelling, and we are easily transported back to the Scheidemannís Hamburg. In addition to conveying the tenderness of the music, Toth also uses the full resources of the Faber organ to create strikingly majestic images so prevalent in Scheidemannís music.

There are other advantageous features as well. In "Jesu, wollst Vns weisen", Toth invigorates this delightful piece with a Ďbird-songí stop that is rarely encountered on other recordings. Another great touch is the use of applicable chant in three of the programmed works. Singing the chants is Jessica Tranzillo, a soprano of beautiful voice who creates all the mystery that the chant form requires. I should also add that the sound reverberation is ideal for Tranzillo.

Of course, perfection is a hard destination to achieve, and Toth doesnít quite reach it. Her registrations could be more imaginative and varied, and her echo effects are rather drab as they are played at a volume too similar to the primary lines in the Magnificat 8 Toni and the Toccata.

The above reservations do little to detract from Tothís artistry and the fact that each of the works on the program is highly rewarding. The most substantial and magnificent work is the Magnificat 6. Toni, having four verses and clocking in at over seventeen minutes in length. There is not a dull moment in this piece that is a compendium of the prevalent styles used in Scheidemannís era.

In conclusion, recordings devoted to Scheidemannís organ music are infrequent. Tothís excellent disc certainly will be highly desirable to Scheidemann enthusiasts and a fine addition to those already on the market from the Johnson siblings on the Calcante label and the four existing volumes from different organists on Naxos. Each of these recordings is excellent, and Naxos obviously has the price advantage. Also, Volume 2 of the Naxos series, performed by Karin Nelson, is the greatest Scheidemann organ disc I have yet to encounter. However, you will only find the birds and sublime chant on Tothís recording. I recommend it highly to anyone wishing to become familiar with the organ music of the early 17th century.

Don Satz



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