Werner Breig and Gustav Folk completed the publication
of Scheidemanns music around 1970. This is the first of three double CD
volumes which together present the Scheidemann organ oeuvre. This
ambitious recording project was only recently completed by Cleveland
Johnson, one of the performers on these CDs.
These recordings attempt, as the introductory notes
inform us, to make most of this large repertoire available, played
specifically for its unique needs. The booklet is quite informative
about the organs used for the recordings (full specifications and the
registrations of each piece). It also gives much needed information
about Scheidemann and his world. This is very important thing in
reaching an understanding of the ways and degree to which the composer
was influenced by the world that surrounded him.
Unfortunately, there are printing errors, as well as a
mistake(?) in the title of the CDs. Thus the booklet and CD cover only
refer to the organ works of H. Scheidemann, when the CDs have as a title
the complete organ works of H. Scheidemann. This is puts the listener on
his guard about the reliability of these research-recordings.
Without doubt, Scheidemann was one the leading German
composers of the 17th century. He was organist at the
Catharinenkirche, in Hamburg, which was the flourishing commercial and
artistic centre of North Germany. The musical life there offered very
good opportunities for collaborations and friendship between musicians.
Organ building during Scheidemanns life was in a state of change and
rebirth, which actually influenced the way composers were thinking.
Scheidemann, who was a pupil of Sweelinck, and his works carry his
teacher's influence. This extends Sweelincks style into a specific organ
idiom by employing the technical and musical resources of the North
German Baroque organ. His praeambula are of historical importance as
they are the ancestors of prelude and fugue form, whereas his chorale
arrangements and Magnificat settings are in their finest forms.
The organs used for these recordings present the music
properly, with a sound that is historic and pleasing but a real
challenge for somebody with perfect pitch, hearing and looking at the
score at the same time! The 1624 Hans Scherer the Younger organ in
Tangermünde, reconstructed in 1994 by Schuke Orgelbau, must be similar
to that Scheidemann would have enjoyed in Catharinenkirche so it gives a
proper historical support for the music. The 1675 Huß/Schnitger organ in
Stade was the first large, historically significant organ to be restored
by Ahrend during 1970s and has proved itself important in the revival
and reassessment of a vast repertory of North German music. The 1981
Fisk organ in Wellesley, Massachusetts, though a modern instrument, is
based on historic North German organs particularly that of Fritzsche,
who enlarged Scheidemanns organ in Catharinenkirche to four manuals.
This organ incorporates Fritzsches concept of split keys for enharmonic
pitches (D#/Eb and A/G#) and thus this organ too proved to be ideal for
The recordings lack careful editing and the result is
occasionally an unbalanced sound, within two consecutive bars. Since
these happen to all three organs one cannot blame their age!
As far the playing is concerned I prefer Cleveland
Johnsons performances. His chosen registrations are quite imaginative
and colorful, though at times they show lack of clarity (8 Flute at the
pedal cannot be heard if the manuals are loud enough, but it is a good
cover for the player not to play the pedal line!). His playing extends
the academic limits and is vocal and instrumental enough to meet the
needs of the pieces. There is also a good sense of articulation, based
on early fingerings, which presents a pleasant inégalité.
On the other hand, Claudia Heberlein Johnsons
performances are much too academic. There are slips at times and also
moments when the listener finds it difficult to follow the music even
with the score! Vocal or instrumental treatment of the different forms
of the pieces are insufficiently distinctive and the playing is rather
square. The listener would expect more variety of the chosen
registrations, in order to allow the organs to sound at their best.
As a whole, these recordings do justice to Scheidemanns
music, but their lack of attention to detail is a negative point and
something that may discourgae some listeners.
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See review of Volume