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Tsar of instruments: Organ music from Russia
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Prelude and Fugue in D major, Op. 93 (1906-7) [8.45]
Reinhold GLIÈRE (1874-1956)

Fugue on a Russian Christmas Song (c.1913) [2.21]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Fugue in E flat major (c.1836) [2.20]
Fugue in A minor (c. 1836) [2.47]
Fugue in D major (c. 1836) [2.32]
Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)
Three pieces, Op.159 [11.01]
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
From Trio élégiaque, Op. 9 (First edition): II Andante in F major for Harmonium (1893, rev. 1907, 1917) [2.48]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 98 (1914) [8.16]
Sergey Ivanovich TANEYEV (1856-1915)

Choral Varié (1894) [6.39]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

From the music to the film The Gadfly, Op.97
Credo [3.55]
The Cathedral Service [2.31]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Fantasy, Op.110 (1934-5) [16.34]
Iain Quinn (Organ)
Organ of Winchester Cathedral, England (Willis organ 1851, reconstructed by Harrison and Harrison, 1988)
Recorded at Winchester Cathedral, 7-9 January 2002 DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10043 [70.51]


The organ school of Russia is among the less known. The main reason for this is that the Russian Orthodox Church had no place for the organ, and thus not many compositions were composed for the instrument. Concerts were rare on the few existing secular instruments. The period since the 1950s brought a wave of new organ building in large towns. A marked increase in the quantity of organ concerts encouraged Russian composers to write for the instrument.

The first organ in Russia dated back to the 11th century and is associated with the Cathedral of St Sofia in Kiev. Another major construction dated back to 1672, when a fine organ by Gutowski equipped the Court Theatre. During the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), the interest in western European music was strong. By that time the Hamburg organ builder Arp Schnitger built organs in Russia. By the end of the 18th century concerts with symphonic and secular music were held in churches and the works of Bach became known and influenced Russian composers. Prince Vladimir Odoyevsky wrote the first original organ works in the late 1840s. He was a friend of Glinka who often improvised in Odoyevsky’s organ for the high society of Moscow and St Petersburg. Liszt was highly impressed by Glinka’s talent in improvisation and he also held a recital in Moscow in 1843. The activity of organ builders continued during the 19th century. German organ builders such as Walcker, Sauer, Ladegast and Steinmeyer & Co made most of the organs. The establishment of organ departments within the Moscow and St Petersburg conservatoires gave a flourishing cultural effect. Tchaikovsky was among the first organ students at the St Petersburg Conservatory. E. F. Walcker built the organ there in 1897, whereas the one in the Moscow Conservatory was built by A. Cavaillé-Coll in 1899. Famous organists such as Widor, Tournemire and Bossi were heard in Russia by that time. Since then many organs were built in concert halls and other places by Rieger, Sauer, Schuke and Eule.

This CD, as the small booklet inform us, brings ‘together occasional organ works by Russia’s more important composers’.

Reinhold Glière, a pupil of Taneyev amongst others, wrote orchestral music in which expressive melody is the strongest element. The Fugue on a Russian Christmas Song is ‘an imaginative three-voice fugal treatment of a beautiful traditional melody’. Mikhail Glinka is the father of the classical Russian music. His organ fugues show his ‘command of the medium’. Alexander Grechaninov studied with Rimsky-Korsakov. The fine Adagio is a beautiful piece in three parts and this is its premiere recording. Another premiere recording is that of Sergey Rachmaninov’s Andante, a piece emotionally fuelled by Tchaikovsky’s death. It is Rachmaninov’s only contribution to the solo organ literature. Taneyev was the antithesis of Glinka. He mastered the compositional techniques but lacked imagination and expressiveness. He studied the great contrapuntalists of the past and the result is a body of precise and polished compositions. The Choral Varié is ‘one of the best organ works by any Russian composer’. The third premiere recording of this CD is Dmitri Shostakovich’s only extended solo organ works, the Credo and the Cathedral Service. They are ‘self-explanatory in mood and characterization’. Glazunov has a significant place in Russian music as he succeeded in joining together Russianism and Europeanism. He was the direct heir of Balakirev’s nationalism but tended more towards Borodin’s epic grandeur. His organ pieces performed here are very fine pieces, well balanced and with nice effects.

The Willis/Harrison& Harrison organ of Winchester Cathedral provides all the necessary sounds for this music and the selected registrations work very well.

Quinn’s playing though comes across as not totally committed. His interpretations are for the most part not convincing. This is due to the absence of rhythmic vitality and therefore continuity. There is also a tendency to run things forward, rather than sit back and enjoy the harmonies that fill the big acoustics of the cathedral. The performances, though sensitive (especially the Fantasy by Glazunov), are breathless without points of repose. The lack of breathing causes also unnecessarily sharp accents at the end of phrases. There is occasionally something that sounds like rhythmical misreading, as in Glazunov’s Prelude and Fugue in D maj, Op. 93, bar 192 of the fugue and at Glinka’s Fugue in E flat major at the Coda Largo section.

This CD nevertheless deserves a welcome, as it brings a not at all well-known genre of music to a wide audience.

Christina Antoniadou

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