Thomas Donahue’s primarily concern for the recording
of this CD, is ‘to present the tonal resources of the Kitchener organ’.
Since this is the case, the listener is strongly encouraged to derive
hours of pleasure from studying the organ’s specification and the list
of registrations for each piece. These are given very analytically in
the booklet. Additionally, almost half of the pieces are played twice,
in order ‘to show contrasting or complementary stop combinations’. As
the pieces are quite short, the listener can very easily compare them.
The absence of pedal in most of the pieces is due to their nature and
the result is that one is allowed ‘to hear each particular registration
of its own’.
The notes in the booklet certainly give Donahue’s chosen
registrations on the Brunzema organ, but it is pity that it does not
provide information about the composers. Actually the only thing it
does is to tell you that the pieces are all written by German composers
(!) and are based on German hymn tunes. We are told that this ‘is in
deference to Gerhard Brunzema’s cultural background’. Although probably
nobody would need information on Bach, the same does not apply with
J.G. Walther and E. Pepping; at least not for the non-expert organ listener
or maybe even for organists!
Johann Gottfried Walther is a very notable figure
in German Baroque music history. As the New Grove Dictionary notes,
‘his greatest contribution is the Musicalishes Lexicon, the first
major music dictionary in German and the first in any language to include
both musical terms and biographies of musicians from the past and the
present’. Apart from his relationship with J.S.Bach and the fact that
Bach became the godfather of his eldest son, their friendship had shared
musical benefits. The majority of Walther’s organ works are chorale
preludes (over 100), fourteen of them presented on this CD. The style
is highly personal with strong counterpoint and flourishing harmony,
standing in equal comparison with Bach’s own chorale preludes. Ernst
Pepping’s music is strongly influenced by 16th and 17th-century
music. New Grove notes that ‘this neo-Baroque tendency, found at all
periods in Pepping's work, is indicative of the constancy of his musical
evolution’. This CD presents selections from Peppings’ Kleines Orgelbuch,
written in 1940. These pieces are governed by a strong cantus
firmus and come as a nice contrasting surprise to Walther’s pieces.
Donahue’s selections from Bach's organ works seem somewhat
odd. He included his own transcriptions from Cantatas 95, 159, and 80,
turning his back on organ pieces (for example pieces from the Clavierübung
3) that would match perfectly with the sound of this organ.
The Brunzema organ at The Blessed Sacrament Parish
in Ontario (with an added second division with three stops in 1991)
stands in an octagonally-shaped building with nice acoustics. The reverberation
time varies from two to three seconds, depending on the frequencies.
Brunzema’s concern is to build organs that maintain a connection with
historic instruments, especially ‘those built before the time of Arp
Schnitger in the province of Groningen, The Netherlands and in the north
of his hometown of Emden. This organ has mechanical key action. This
allows the player to show off his ability to create clear articulation
and demonstrate different kinds of key touch in order to present interesting
musical effects. The temperament used for this organ is ‘the same as
that used by Francesco Vallotti in the 18th century. The
fifths F-C, C-G, G-A, D-A, A-E, and E-B are tuned narrow by 1/6 of the
Pythagorean comma (approximately four cents) and all the other fifths
are tuned pure’. The Gedackt 8’ – a metal flute stop - is a delight
to the ears with its full round sound. Together with the Rohrflöte
4’, the sound achieves perfection. The Praestant 8’ is noticeable for
the calmness and serenity of its color. The Oktave 2’ and Flöte
2’ have not a hint of shrillness. The Schwebung 8’ is a mild céleste.
Together with the Praestant 8’, it gives a combination with ‘a rich
and intense sound, and is the best effect on the instrument’. The Trompete
8’ and Rohrflöte 4’ have a beautiful voicing and they sound at
their best when they are used on their own.
Donahue’s playing shows a lack of careful listening
to these different colors of the organ. His playing does not show the
contrast off as well as it might. He fails to experiment and use different
kinds of key action in order to point up the beautiful voicing of the
different pipes. For example the bass line would not sound muddy whenever
the Holzgedacht 8’ was used, if he toned down the sustain effect. On
the contrary, he could have achieved nice crescendi and diminuendi
by varying his touch (lighter and heavier according to the demands).
Also extra care should be given to the imitative patterns of the voices,
especially to Walter’s preludes. In this recording, their performances
are too much academic and thus they do not succeed to raise the listener’s
attention at all. Especially in Pepping’s pieces, Donahue’s playing
is rather square and these fine pieces loose their energetic character.
Some slips, which are striking audible, should have been recorded again.
Sometimes he also fails to finish gently the phrasing of the different
voices and they sound clipped in execution and unnatural. By contrast,
his endings are always very well executed and give a very nice, natural
conclusion. Donahue’s transcriptions of Bach Cantatas do not seem to
work properly for the organ, with the exception of ‘Ein’ feste Burg
ist unser Gott’. This transcription is good, but Donahue has not
captured the beauty of the cantata through his playing; too much sustained
playing with not enough articulation, leads to a flattened, dull performance.
In the transcription of ‘Ich will hier bei dir stehen’, the registration
confuses the listener as the accompaniment and the solo line are both
based on the same flute color. ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten
sein’ lacks the vocal treatment of the solo line, whereas ‘Liebster
Jesu, wir sind hier’ adopts a romantic approach, inappropriate for
the style and the organ.