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Wilhelm MIDDELSCHULTE (1863-1943)
Kanonische Fantasie über BACH und Fuge über vier Themen von Bach [25:30]
Konzert über ein Thema von Bach [31:12]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fuge in d minor (mit Klavierpart von Middelschulte) [8:37]
Jurgen Sonnentheil (organ)
Philip Mayers (piano)
rec. St Petrikirche, Cuxhaven, November 2003. DDD
CPO 7771442 [65:19]


The German organist Jurgen Sonnentheil has recorded works of a quite unknown composer, Wilhelm Middelschulte. Although Middelschulte was born in Germany, he lived for a long time in Chicago. His music is nevertheless typically German, featuring a strong feeling for harmony and counterpoint. His harmonic language is, in general, quite chromatic and comparable to that of composers such as August Gottfried Ritter.

Its difficult for me to be enthusiastic about this CD. The first work featured is a canonic fantasie on the BACH motif, and a fugue on four famous themes by J.S. Bach. The fantasie is in fact a passacaglia, with a lot of canonic elements in the voices which accompany the constantly repeated motif in the bass. The fugue is based on fugue subjects by Bach, including that of the d-minor fugue BWV 565, and the Ricercare from ‘Das Musikalischen Opfer’. Although the music contains a lot of ideas, its structure is very fragmentary and I missed the overall tension necessary to bind the piece together. Contrapuntal structures are very complicated. Although Middelschulte was a good craftsman, his music makes little emotional impact. Instead of variations featuring tension and resolution, the music quite often comes over as static and boring.

The second piece is the ‘Konzert über ein Thema von Jos. Seb. Bach’. Most of the melodic material used in this composition is based on the theme of the e-minor fugue by Bach BWV 548. The work also contains a short Scherzo. I think Middelschulte’s music is most convincing in his non-contrapuntal passages, such as in this short movement. The CD ends with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue BWV 565 in an arrangement for organ and piano by Middelschulte. Again, I have the same feeling; although the composer adds a lot of notes to the original piece, all of them are completely unnecessary.

The sound of the Gerald Woehl Organ in Cuxhaven is warm and appropriate for performances of German romantic organ repertoire. Sometimes the instrument sounds a little too neo-baroque for me, especially in the initial speech of the principals, which is too direct. Jurgen Sonnentheil’s playing is fine, but not extremely convincing. The pianist Philip Mayers’ playing is, for my taste, too light in the fast passages of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. One should play Middelschulte’s arrangement in a heavy and pathetic manner, rather than alla Ton Koopman…..

Gijs Boelen



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