> Brunzema in Ontario [ChA]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Organ Works by:

Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748): Chorale Preludes: - Wachtet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, - Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, - Werde munter, mein Gemüte, - Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod, - Herzlich tut mich verlagen, -Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ – Christus, der ist mein Leben, -Allein Gott in der Höh’sei Ehr’, - Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag, - Erstanden ist der heilige Christ, - Warum sollt’ ich mich denn grämen, - Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht, - Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich, - Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ernst PEPPING (1909-1981): Selections from Kleines Orgelbuch :- Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her 2, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her 3, - Jesus Christus herrscht als König, -Zeuch an die Macht, du Arm des Herrn, - Nun freut euch, lieben Christen, g’mein, - Sollt’ ich meinem Gott nicht singen,
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Chorale Preludes: -Valet will ich dir gehen (Cantata #95), - Liebster Jesu, wie sind hier (BWV 731), - Ich will hier bei dir stehen (Cantata #159), -Jesus, meine Zuversicht (BWV 728), - Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein (BWV 641), - Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (Cantata #80).
Thomas Donahue (Organ).
The Blessed Sacrament Parish, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Recorded: March 1996 at the Blessed Sacrament Parish, Ontario, Canada.
Organ by: Gerhard Brunzema, 1991.


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.


Christina Antoniadou


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