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Johan Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto d-moll nach Vivaldi BWV 596 (1713) [11:22]
Trio super "Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend" BWV 655 [3:54]
Pièce d’orgue BWV 572 [9:03]
Partie diverse sopra il Corale "Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig" BWV 768 [19:55]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)

Suite Op. 5 (1934) [23:24]
Samuel Kunner (organ)
rec. 16-20 September 2005, Kern Organ, Frauenkirche, Dresden. DDD/SACD
CARUS 83.188 [67:05]
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Some say the Second World War came to an end with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but this historic disc stands testament to some of the rebuilding which has gone on since those momentous days. Many will remember the news broadcasts which covered the consecration of the rebuilt Frauenkirche on 30 October 2005. This disc is the first recording to come from the new organ, built by Daniel Kern of Strasbourg, and as such should make organ enthusiasts and those interested in musical history in the making sit up and take notice.

The new organ, despite having its case restored exactly as it was designed by the architect George Bähr, is no slavish reproduction of the original Gottfried Silbermann organ. It has however been built with that instrument’s sonorities in mind. The idea has been to be concordant with the Alsatian sound of Andreas Silbermann, while providing romantic flexibility to the instrument by adding a manual in the Parisian style of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

It is known that on 1 December 1736 Johan Sebastian Bach gave a recital on the Silbermann organ in the Frauenkirche. Unfortunately it is not known what he played, but it is entirely appropriate to fill the majority of this première recording with his work. Samuel Kummer was appointed organist at the Frauenkirche in December 2004, and he performs the works here with elegant and authoritative style. Straight from the start, the pulsing ostinati of the Concerto BWV 596’s Allegro fill you with a sense of promise and excitement, almost immediately fulfilled by the subsequent dramatic Grave chords and the Fuga – it’s the ideal showcase with which to open such a recording. The organ sparkles: the sound dances and moves sweetly within the richly resonant acoustic, and the sound engineers seem to have got it right from the start. I suspect that, had this merely been a stereo recording, the microphones might have been placed just a little closer to the instrument. As it is, the listener is realistically placed somewhere in the middle of the Frauenkirche, something which is brought startlingly to life when the multi-channel effect kicks in.

All of Samuel Kumner’s Bach is translucent, and seems to me to be perfectly balanced in registration and tempo for the new organ and its magnificent setting. It is of course no ‘organ fireworks’ recording, and while the rich bass comes across clearly it probably won’t have your trouser bottoms flapping as a more closely mic’d recording might have. The Gravement section in BWV 572 opens out in a way which brought tears to my eyes however, and I gladly trade this wave upon wave of superb, voluminous, ‘Plein Jeu’ organ sound for unnaturally shuddering woofers any day.

If you want to hear the pedals misbehaving then we have to turn to Duruflé’s Suite Op.5. It is as if the Kern organ has somehow completely transformed itself, proving its sound spectrum to be easily the equal of many a romantic French instrument. This piece was dedicated to Duruflé’s teacher, Paul Dukas. Clearly intended for the Cavaillé-Coll sound, it is a suitable showcase for this aspect of the new organ’s potential. Expressive cantelinas sing out over the foundation stops in the second half of the Prelude, which recall most Duruflé’s justly famous Requiem, and the second Sicilienne movement shamelessly parades a rainbow palette of lyrical Voix Humaine and Voix Céleste moments, which charm and melt the ear with flute and Hautbois melodies over deceptively simple sounding 6/8 accompaniments. The final Toccata is full of bravura and virtuoso organ writing, with some strikingly punchy cross-rhythmic effects – a joyful end to a magnificent organ recital.

This is a rare and special disc – an historic recording for, in, and of our times. Superbly recorded and performed, we can only look forward to a feast of new discs from the Frauenkirche. Even those with a severe and incurable organ allergy might find themselves miraculously cured by such a production: the rest of us can think ourselves indeed fortunate to have been witness to the rebirth of one of Europe’s significant cultural landmarks.

Dominy Clements



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