A delight and a joy from beginning
is an accomplished interpreter of the great works of the organ
canon. He has made well-received recordings of works by Bach,
Mendelssohn, Liszt, Franck, Widor and others. Having studied
in Freiburg and Boston, Johannsen has, since 1994, been the
organist and choirmaster of the Stiftskirche of Stuttgart.
In that capacity he played an important role in the commissioning
of a new organ from the well-known firm of Mühleisen, an instrument
completed in 2004. The technical dimensions of the instrument
are extensively detailed in the CD booklet - which is attractively
illustrated, but annotated exclusively in German - and are
discussed in the review by Chris Bragg (see link below). Chris
was not greatly impressed by the new instrument (“The organ
leaves me stone-cold”). I don’t have Chris’s specialist knowledge
or expertise, but as a more ‘general’ listener I have to say
that I found the sound generally attractive and richly coloured.
Like Chris, I found Johannsen’s recital thoroughly entertaining!
his new organ Johannsen sought, his notes tell us, an instrument
that would be equally suitable for Bach, for the organ music
of the German Romantics, and for improvisation. The result
is a large instrument with a huge range of resources. It is
to improvisation that this recital is devoted. Johannsen gives
us twenty-five improvisations on some of the most familiar
German hymns and songs of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
While Johannsen’s improvisations are respectful of the material,
they are also witty, stylistically various and inventively
colourful – the range of the new organ is vividly demonstrated,
as are Johannsen’s own technique and imagination. There are
echoes of the baroque tradition and of the romantics, to show
us that the new instrument is capable of meeting the organist’s
requirements; but there are also moments which show us his
familiarity with the work of, say, Vierne and Messiaen. There
is also a jazz-influenced treatment of “Gelobet seist du,
Jesu Christ”. There are miniature toccatas (as in the improvisation
on “O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf”) and a version of “Stille
Nacht, heilige Nacht” which makes it sound anything but hackneyed.
The - tasteful! - use of the instruments in-built tubular
bells and glockenspiel is alone worth the hearing!
to the whole CD is a little like that occasional experience
of wandering, unsuspecting, into a church and finding some
unknown organist playing for his/her own pleasure. Though
that experience can be magical, the organists concerned are
rarely quite as brilliant as Johannsen is. There is, though,
something of the same relaxed quality here, of music-making
not seemingly designed for public performance, not calculated
to impress an audience. But it does!
you are at all fond of organ recitals and/or contemporary
organs, don’t wait until next Christmas to hear this.
see also Review
by Chris Bragg