organ music is one of my musical passions, so I was very pleased
to receive this new Arte Nova recording. Organ music isn’t strong
in the minds of most classical music enthusiasts and the organ
music before Bach gets even less attention. It has the reputation
of being severe and dark, and I can’t deny that a typical organ
work of the period would prove the reputation somewhat accurate.
with a warm spot for Early Baroque organ music naturally takes
to its severity, the serious chromaticism, and the highly introspective
presentation. However, at least in my situation, there is another
crucial element that, combined with the others, makes this music
so compelling. That element is a sweet optimism that is spiritually
uplifting and provides heightened contrast with the generally
dark moods. Bach was well aware of this feature and always ensured
that he used it in his bleakest and/or most stern organ compositions.
of the programmed composers on the Arte Nova disc offers excellent
music, and I feel that Weckmann, Buxtehude and Scheidemann are
among the greatest composers of Early Baroque organ music. Weckmann
and Scheidemann were pioneers of the "Stylus Phantasticus"
movement when composers were starting to take off their structural
chains and create new forms as well as expand on existing ones.
Buxtehude’s music represented the peak of the "Stylus Phantasticus"
period and is the more famous for the distinction.
the new disc, we get the opportunity to listen to organist Mario
Hospach-Martini who was born in 1971. He already has an active
concert regimen and has studied with well-known artists including
Robert Hill, Wolfgang Rübsam, and Harald Vogel. His organ
of choice is one built by Christian Müller in 1727. The Bakker
and Timminga organ building company of Leeuwarden had the honor
of restoring the organ in 1972. Its sound is attractive though
not as rich as I would like.
initially enjoyed the Hospach-Martini performances, but continued
listening has left me with a dampened opinion. ‘Sweetness’ is
something he tends to avoid, so the strong musical contrasts are
diminished. He doesn’t highlight architectural cohesion and progress,
especially in works containing highly divergent sections such
as Buxtehude’s Praeludium. I wouldn’t say that he prefers to travel
off the main road, but that he doesn’t sound confident as to which
road to take. Also, Hospach-Martini uses some weak registrations
for Fugal sections that I find contrary to the musical arguments.
All the above could be forgiven, but the lack of drive and
elasticity just won’t do.
begins his program with two of Weckmann’s finest organ works.
The "Praeambulum Primi Toni a 5" has a powerful and
majestic Prelude followed by an irresistibly mysterious Fugal
section. "Ach wir armen Sünder" is a perfect example
of the severe-sweet blend I mentioned earlier in the review. The
music is contemplative, uplifting, and gorgeously decorated.
the Weckmann comparisons, I used the excellent Naxos recordings
of Wolfgang Zerer and the 2-cd Motette set performed by Hans Davidsson.
The most noticeable difference when placing Hospach-Martini into
the mix is that he minimizes the music’s sweet appeal. It’s not
that he’s more severe than Zerer or Davidsson, but the superb
contrasts they offer are not matched. I think it would be fair
to say that Hospach-Martini gives Weckmann a slightly dour personality
that is not advantageous.
situation worsens with Buxtehude’s glorious Praeludium in E. This
highly diverse work has a free-form introduction, three Fugues,
and a Recitative. Each section is masterful, and the work has
a rock-solid coherency built on purpose and drive. Frankly, Hospach-Martini
doesn’t give a ‘prime-time’ performance. His drive is deficient
in the Fugues, as he seems to chop his way from side-to-side and
not allow for any sense of inevitability. Each section sounds
detached from the others and the registrations are often too discreet.
Hospach-Martini diminishes Buxtehude, and that becomes crystal
clear when listening to Rene Saorgin’s performance on his Harmonia
Mundi box set of Buxtehude’s complete organ works. Saorgin offers
structure, lift, and the drive that makes the piece so compelling.
Hospach-Martini is in the ‘Minor Leagues’ with the Praeludium.
"Ciacona" and the Choral Prelude "Nun bitten"
find our young organist giving his most effective performances
on the program. Both pieces, slow and carrying serious emotional
subjects, suit Hospach-Martini very well. He conveys a strong
degree of subtle yet intense sadness in the "Ciacona",
and his stately presentation of "Nun bitten" is quite
attractive. These aren’t the best versions I’ve ever heard, but
they compare well to Saorgin’s. As an aside, there is a striking
similarity between the Buxtehude "Ciacona" and Bach’s
Passacaglia BWV 582 as to structure, flow, and melodic content.
Bach admired Buxtehude greatly, and it definitely shows in his
plays the remaining three programmed works in a dutiful and unimaginative
manner. A comparison of his performance of Scheidemann’s "Galliarda
ex D" with Gustav Leonhardt’s on a Sony Vivarte disc illuminates
one of the major problems with Hospach-Martini’s interpretations.
The man displays a minimal level of elasticity, while Leonhardt
opens up Scheidemann’s music to reveal all its glories.
conclusion, the low Arte Nova price tag is not sufficient to give
the Hospach-Martini new recording a recommendation. He takes the
‘great’ out of great organ works of the Early Baroque era. In
doing so, he gives credibility to those who find this type of
to do? If you want Weckmann, the two Naxos discs and the Motette
set I mentioned earlier in the review are excellent selections.
For Buxtehude, the Saorgin box set is a fine bargain with generally
exceptional performances. Scheidemann has been well served in
recent years with three discs on Naxos and two sets on the Calcante
are also huge numbers of mixed recordings such as the Leonhardt
that offer a much higher level of artistry than the Arte Nova
can manage. Another disc I highly recommend contains the masterful
organ music of Nicolaus Bruhns performed by William Porter for
Loft Recordings. If you would like to go further back in time
to the 1500s, there’s a 2-CD set on Motette of the organ music
of the magnificent Antonio de Cabezón.
recordings I recommend above constitute just a fraction of the
excellent organ recordings on the market stretching in time from
the early 1500s to the High Baroque period exemplified through
Bach’s music. Hospach-Martini is simply buried by the competition
and not recommended to dedicated record collectors or the curious.