The award afforded to this recording
is well deserved. The prize was the 1987 Grande Prix du Disc.
It was originally recorded in 1980 and has been digitally remastered.
Berj Zamkochian is a splendid organist,
born in Boston, who has made many tours and been active in the
concert scene for very many years.
What thrills me about this recording,
and it really does to the extent of unmitigating joy, is that
the Reubke sonata which is only of the most difficult works
for the organist to play, if not the most difficult, is given
the best ever performance I have heard. It is simply staggering.
What a player! When the excruciatingly difficult passages come
he does not slow down or make allowances or excuses. He maintains
the tempo with an explosive excitement. If the greatest piano
work is the Liszt Piano Sonata, and well it might be, this is
the equivalent for the organ. Although the Liszt sonata is very
difficult to play this organ sonata is harder still and there
are the feet to worry about.
The organs are superb and the choice
of registration is faultless. The organ for the Reubke is the
Klais Organ, Ruhr, St Maria Geburt Mulhelm in Germany having
three manuals and 49 stops.
The organ for the Mendelssohn and Reger
is the Austin organ at St Joseph’s cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut
and some listeners may find the power in the Mendelssohn to
be a little too much. Mendelssohn is often regarded as a felicitous
composer but what majesty Zamkochian brings to the often hackneyed
The slow movement is on another plane.
Anything by Reger is welcome. A sumptuous performance of the
Christmas piece shows us the marvellous expressive qualities
that this organist has.
Julius Reubke was born on 23 March 1834
the son of an organ builder. Julius died on 3 June 1858. He
was just 24. He had lessons with Liszt and, in addition to this
Organ Sonata, he wrote a Piano Sonata. Reubke divides the 94th
psalm into four sections. The opening Grave deals with the psalmist’s
pleas for vengeance on the proud. The larghetto leading to an
allegro begins with a question, How long will the wicked prosper?
(indeed) and proceeds to lament the injustices perpetrated on
the widows and fatherless. The Adagio is a request for comfort
in adversity and the final allegro is full of confidence and
the certain knowledge that the Lord will triumph over all the
wicked. In the end God will be seen to be supreme.
The Mendelssohn is the first of his
six organ sonatas Opus 65 and those musical detectives among
you will hear the obvious connection between this and the glorious
Violin Concerto. The first movement of the F minor sonata quotes
the chorale, What God wills, shall always be done. As already
said the slow movement is very beautiful and the work ends triumphantly.
We tend to forget that Mendelssohn was a fine organist. It still
beats me why he is still so unfashionable. It seems to me that
he is acknowledged rather than admired.
Two tiny quibbles. The disc is called
Romantic Organ Works. Really? Historically, I suppose so. Secondly,
the print on the fold-over notes was hard to read as white on
black often is. Our eyes are not what they used to be! A super
disc .... very exciting! And that’s an understatement!