The Mendelssohn anniversary has been celebrated in style by many
companies with new recordings of familiar and unfamiliar works.
present issue is a mixture of both, with not only the well
known Sonatas and Preludes and Fugues but also thirteen shorter
and less familiar pieces. It is an engrossing mixture where
the composer’s skill and inventiveness is shown even in what
are admittedly more minor works. The early Passacaglia of
1823, for instance, untitled in the manuscript and called
“Ostinato” in the recent Bärenreiter edition, is clearly based
on Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor. Whilst it is perhaps unfair
to compare the two works, Mendelssohn’s early piece is certainly
worth hearing for its energy and craftsmanship, especially
in this performance. This should be no surprise given the
miracle of the Octet, and admittedly it does not begin to
approach the quality of that work, but it is no mere prentice
could make similar comments on most of the short pieces on these
discs. It is a great pity that they seem to be little known outside
organ circles as there is much enjoyment to be had from them here.
They are more varied in character than their titles might suggest,
and even if they are no masterpieces they are worth hearing, as
of course are the major works here. The Preludes and Fugues have
an obvious origin in the music of J.S. Bach, but they are no slavish
imitations of his style, and they are very varied in character.
For example the first, in C minor, begins with an energetic and
extrovert Prelude followed by a gentler Fugue in 12/8. The second,
in G minor, has in contrast a gentle Prelude in the style of a
Song with Words followed by a chromatically wandering Fugue. All
three are amongst Mendelssohn’s best music, as are the six Sonatas.
I was delighted to hear the latter again so soon after the recent
Chandos disc (CHAN10532) on which William Whitehead played them
on the organ of the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace. Both are outstanding,
although I must admit to a slight preference for the Chandos version
as the less resonant acoustic and closer recording is more vivid
in its impact and allows the more complex passages to emerge much
more clearly. Nonetheless the present version also has strong
merits, and as part of a two disc set does enable the listener
to get to know significantly more of the composer’s music for
organ. Both players understand the composer’s idiom, and present
the music in a forthright, unsentimental but never crude manner.
special merit of the present set is the accompanying booklet
in which Hans Fagius introduces the music in no less than
14 pages of notes written in a very approachable style almost
as if the player were speaking directly to the listener. These
are fascinating and add much to one’s understanding and enjoyment.
Unusually the organ registration is not included, but perhaps
this is a positive decision intended to demonstrate that the
discs have a potential appeal beyond the organ specialist.
If so, I welcome it as these discs do very much deserve to
be heard in wider musical circles.