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Petr EBEN (b.1929) Preludio festivo; Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884) Six Short Preludes;
Josef KLICKA (1885-1937) Legenda in D major; J.S.BACH (1685-1750) Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545 and Fugue in D minor arr. J.F.N. SEGER (1716-1782); Anon 18th Cent, Three Pieces from the Chocen Manuscript; Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Vigilia revised by Novenko; Michal NOVENKO (1962) Improvisation on Martinu’s theme; Georgi MUSHEL (1909-1989) Two Pieces from the Suite on Uzbek Motifs.
Michael Novenko plays the Organ of the Holy Cross Deanery Church, Litmysl, Czech Republic
Recorded at Litomysl September 2001
Great European Organs series No. 67
PRIORY PRCD 789 [72.32]

The word ‘Great’ can be over-used and it may be alarming for some to ponder that Priory reckon that Volume 67 is justified in their European Organs series. However one should have few qualms about this instrument. It was built and completed in 2000 by the Grygar Company and has four manuals and fifty-one stops. Its original case was used but extended to now include an unusual Trompeteria rank which makes up the extra manual. Many of the old ‘romantic’ stops have been retained meaning that the instrument still has its traditional local character added to a new strong one.

It is apt therefore that Michal Novenko has chosen has almost entirely Czech programme including an improvisation by himself on a Martinů theme, his last work,’Vigilia’ which Novenko has revised from unfinished sketches. So his programme takes in the early 18th Century repertoire, then moves to an anonymous Czech manuscript to very recent pieces and it is interesting that the organ is completely at home in all and any of it.

The trumpet stops come into their own immediately in Petr Eben’s colourful ‘Preludio Festivo’ written for the Pope’s visit to Prague. On the reverse of the booklet the picture shows the folly pipes protruding from above the organist’s seat, it is an extravagant and theatrical sight. They also stir the blood in Novenko’s brilliant Improvisation which shows off his own virtuosity to full effect. One should not be surprised to read that Novenka has studied composition with Helmut Rilling in Stuttgart and has won prizes as an improviser he also runs masterclasses on the subject.

Martinů was born in Policka just thirteen miles from Litomysl, another ‘local boy’ is Bedrich Smetana born there in 1824, he knew the church which is late 14th Century with substantial work of the 17th and 18th Centuries after a fire and may well have heard his ‘Six short preludes’ in this Deanery church. That must be the only reason for presenting this very early work as it otherwise rather featureless.

Both in the Smetana and in the Martinů I find myself feeling that Novenko might have found some slightly more colourful and varied stops. This criticism, however, does not apply to his fine performance of Bach’s D minor Fugue. Originally in C minor but adapted by Johann Seger for organ who mysteriously transposed it in the process. Baroque music is very successful on this organ due I think to its fine specification on the ‘Choir’ including an eight foot Wooden Cromone and the flute stops on the ‘Great’. Particularly pleasing are the three rather non-descript, anonymous pieces from the Chocen Manuscript c.1770 I should think.

The Romantic repertoire is also represented by a name new to me Josef Klicka whose ‘Legenda’ is the longest work in the programme being in three contrasted sections. It is a happy mixture of Tchaikovsky and Suk/Novak with a touch of Rheinberger.

The contemporary pieces in addition to the ones already mentioned are by the Ukrainian composer Georgi Mushel, a beautiful if slightly prolix Aria and a Toccata not unlike Matthias, however the booklet notes, written by Michal Novenko himself are somewhat ‘over the top’ to describe it as ‘A sabre dance for organ’. The recording is good if slightly bass-light.

Gary Higginson



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