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CD: Fuga

Lakeuden Ristin urut
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Concert-etude No. 3 in D flat (c. 1848) (arr. Kalevi Kiviniemi) [5:55]
Consolation No. 3 in D flat (1849-1850) (arr. Kiviniemi) [3:52]
Tanzfantasie ‘Czárdás obstinée’ (1884) (arr. Kalevi Kiviniemi) [2:43]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Danse Lente (1885) [2:36]
Choral III (1890) [12:10]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Allegro maestoso e con fuoco (1881) [4:10]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Antiphon, Op. 18/3 (1919) [2:48]
Pierre COCHEREAU (1924-1984)
Scherzo Symphonique (1974) [6:15]
Kalevi KIVINIEMI (b. 1958)
Fantasia ‘Suomalainen rukous’ (2008) [11:56]
Oskar MERIKANTO (1868-1924)
Passacaglia, Op. 80 (1915) [8:42]
Kalevi Kiviniemi (organ)
rec.August 2008 & March 2009, Lakeuden Risti Church, Seinäjoki, Finland
FUGA 9285 [62:39]
Experience Classicsonline

Is there a musical equivalent of the perfect storm, where a number of factors combine to produce something quite extraordinary? Indeed there is; the catalogue is littered with discs where repertoire, performance and sonics have conspired to produce recordings that seem unassailably ‘right’. Organ recordings are harder to pull off, especially when it comes to reproducing the instrument’s vast range and sense of presence, but recent strides in recording technology have brought that goal a little nearer.

But sound quality isn’t enough on its own, there’s the programme and the standard of playing to consider as well. Which brings me to Finnish organist Kalevi Kiviniemi, whose recent discs have come pretty close to this magic state. The first is a mixed recital from Saint-Ouen - review - the second a disc of Franck from Central Pori in Finland - review. Both recordings are of the very highest standard, especially in their Super Audio form, thanks to the technical wizardry of Mika Koivusalo and his team. Add to that varied and interesting repertoire, exemplary playing and two fine instruments - a Cavaillé-Coll and a Paschen respectively - and you have two very special discs indeed.

Close, very close, but with this new recording we have it at last - the perfect storm. In all my years of listening to ‘Spectacular’ this and ‘Fireworks’ that, no organ disc has thrilled and moved me as much as this one. It all starts with the organ itself, a 52-stop, four-manual instrument installed in Lakeuden Risti Church, the centrepiece of a town centre designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). Unusually, the Kangasala organ was an integral part of the building’s design from the start, which may account for the extraordinarily rich, rock-solid sound it produces.

Kiviniemi sets sail with three of his own arrangements of Liszt piano pieces. The Concert-etude in D flat ‘Sospiro’, from Trois Études de Concert, opens with a vast, rippling melody, the depth and breadth of which has to be heard to be believed. In terms of clarity and that elusive sense of presence, I can think of no recording that comes even close to this wonderful account. And, what’s more, the sheer amplitude of these sonic waves excites a mixture of awe and trepidation, every note and dynamic flawlessly rendered. But it’s not all about spectacle; Kiviniemi is just as captivating in the smaller-scale section that begins at 3:24, before he rounds off the piece in rousing fashion.

Kiviniemi has always impressed me with his self-effacing style, which may seem at odds with his reputation as a virtuoso organist. His choice of registration also strikes me as well nigh perfect, and one senses the building’s unique acoustic is as much a part of his musical presentation as the organ itself. This modern edifice and instrument must surely represent a high-water mark in musico-acoustic design, Kiviniemi’s arrangement of Consolation No.3, from Liszt’s Six Penseés poétiques, yet another example of how they work together to produce a uniquely satisfying musical experience. Switching between the CD and SACD layers is instructive here, simply because the latter reveals a quantum leap in terms of unforced naturalness and sheer oomph, the Holy Grail of organ recordings.

The Czárdás obstinée’, one of three Liszt wrote between 1881 and 1884, is dominated by powerful ostinati, superbly articulated. It’s a short piece but an exhilarating one, and I daresay the Abbé himself would have smiled at Kiviniemi’s sure-footed response to this spirited Magyar dance. Franck’s Danse Lente is rather more leisurely, but what it lacks in sheer energy it more than compensates for in luminous melodies and a beautifully hushed finale. It’s different again from the more monumental Choral III of 1890, which must be one of Franck’s most ‘orchestral’ works for organ. Kiviniemi brings out all the music’s inner voices and its sense of an unfolding narrative. It’s a masterly reading, and one that confirms Kiviniemi’s stature as a fine interpreter of this composer’s work.

Alexandre Guilmant, another iconic French organist-composer, took inspiration for his Allegro maestoso e con fuoco from the grandfather of them all, J.S. Bach. Based on the latter’s Prelude in C minor BWV 546, it’s an imposing work, blending filigreed finger-work with blazing passages for full organ. It’s the kind of rafter-rattler at which Guilmant’s pupil, Marcel Dupré, excelled. Indeed, the latter’s Antiphon, taken from his 15 Versets sur les Vêpres de la Vierge, doesn’t so much raise the roof as pick out and illuminate every detail beneath it. Originally improvised at Notre-Dame de Paris, Antiphon has a rare translucence that suits the Lakeuden organ’s mid and upper reaches very well. Here clouds of scented sound fill the air, anchored by soft pedals. Magical.

The French bloodline continues with Pierre Cochereau, a Dupré pupil and organist at Notre-Dame from 1955 to 1984. His Scherzo Symphonique, transcribed from a mass he improvised in 1974, must have rolled and thundered around that cavernous space to great effect. It’s pretty impressive in this modern Finnish setting too, combining elastic rhythms in the bass with glittering coronas of sound in the treble. It’s all the more astonishing for being composed ‘on the fly’ as it were, broadening into a lovely, affirmative tune at 2:22. Kiviniemi plays this work with a breadth and dynamism that’s wondrous to behold. And while we’re on the subject of Cochereau, I must draw your attention to a recent Solstice disc, Hommage à Cocherau, a fitting tribute to this great improviser (review).

Now I must warn you that what follows will knock you sideways. Commissioned to accompany a light show, Kiviniemi’s fantasia on Suomalainen rukous (‘Finnish prayer’) starts quietly enough, but it soon morphs into something much more spectacular. One could easily imagine those sustained notes matched to coloured beams of light à la Scriabin, but nothing can prepare you for the vast swathe of sound that comes next. This must have been a display to watch, growing in intensity and complexity until.... No, that would be giving away too much, you really must hear this for yourselves. Suffice it to say I’ve never encountered anything like it.

How do you follow that? Well, with the music of another talented Finn, Oskar Merikanto. In his booklet note Kiviniemi describes Merikanto’s Passacaglia as ‘the flagship of Finnish organ music’. He uses the composer’s original registrations, as entered in the published score, which may account for the rather sturdy character of this performance. Make no mistake, though, Merikanto’s harmonic language is very distinctive, the piece growing in density before subsiding and reinvigorating itself in a massive, pealing peroration. In many organ recordings this is the kind of music that becomes a teeth-clenching ‘wall of sound’. Not so here; Koivusalo and his team make quite sure that the music retains its depth and shape to the very end which, in itself, is something of a miracle.

I’m fresh out of superlatives, and not a little exhausted by listening to this disc so many times. Exhausted but elated, as one so often is after a very special musical event. I urge you all to go out and buy this recording; then batten down the hatches and prepare for the perfect storm.

Dan Morgan



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