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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger




Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Baroque Esprit-Organ works
Toccata D minor BWV 913 (1710) [14.46]
Liebster Herr Jesu, wir sind hier (Chorale arrangement) BWV 731 (1709) [2.49]
Christ lag in Todesbanden (Chorale arrangement) BWV 718 [5.27]
Valet will ich dir geben (Chorale arrangement) BWV 736 [4.15]
Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich (Chorale arrangement) BWV 732 [1.34]
Chorale arrangements of the third part of ‘Clavier-Übung’ BWV 669-689 (1739)
Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit BWV 669 [1.48]
Christe, aller Welt trost BWV 670 [1.39]
Kyrie, Gott heiliger geist BWV 671 [1.45]
Allein Gott in der Höh’sei Her BWV 675 [2.59]
Fughetta super: Allein Gott in der Höh’sei Her BWV 667 [1.13]
Fughetta super: Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot'’ BWV 679 [1.51]
Fughetta super: Wir glauben all’ an einem Gott BWV 681 [1.21]
Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 683 [1.39]
Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam BWV 684 [1.56]
Aus tiefer Not shrei’ich zu dir BWV 687 [6.00]
Fuga super: Jesu Christus unser Heiland BWV 689 [4.35]
Präludium and Fuge E minor BWV 533 (1709)
Gustav Leonhardt (Organ)
Historic organ of Grote of St.Laurenkerk/Alkmaar (Hagerbeer/Schnitger Organ, 1639-46/1722-1725)
Recorded at Alkmaar, The Netherlands, 25-26 May 1988
DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 778412 [61.05]
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This is a remarkable CD, featuring an excellent historic organ and an excellent performer in a programme with J.S. Bach’s music.

The disc seems to be above all an exploration of the Hagerbeer/Schnitger organ through music that shows off its colors. The connections between the compositional forms and techniques, and that of the organ building techniques of that period, are also presented in this CD.

The booklet contains nothing but an extensive account of the history of the organ, given in three languages. A reference though to the performer’s selected registrations would be helpful for the listener in order to distinguish the different, unique stops of the organ. The originality of this Alkmaar organ is noteworthy. The restoration of 1982-6 by Flentrop was carried out with strict conservation in mind thus the organ has most of its original pipes and its original key action.

In 1639 the famous organ builder Van Hagerbeer started work on this organ. The case was designed by Jacob van Campen, whereas the closed organ windows presented a momentous painting by Caesar van Everdingen called The triumph of King Saul after the defeat of Goliath by David, which has been restored in its original colors. As the booklet points out, ‘the case of the organ of Alkmaar is in many respects nationally and internationally unique… it is a masterpiece of classical architecture and the first organ in Holland with a sculptured decoration underneath the positive’. In 1722 Gerhardus Havingha was appointed organist and was responsible for the drawing of an entirely new organ within the old one. Frans Caspar Schnitger signed the contract for a new organ and by 1725 this instrument was the first in the Low Countries to be tuned in equal temperament. It also still retained the old north German terziand and zimbels stops, and followed the new idea of the period to produce massive effects in terms of sound through the use of many manual couplers. Therefore it stands as a crucial indication in assessing Bach’s maturity and giving another aspect to that of G. Silbermann, Hilderbrant or Müller’s organs. Other new ideas presented in this organ were the Flachflöte 2’ on the Hauptwerk, which became a solo stop, and the Viool di Gamba 8’, placing at the back of the case and thus its imitation was quite fascinating.

The Toccata in D minor BWV 913 was written for harpsichord with the opening section includes a solo bass line, typical of organ pedal parts. Its third section is developed more melodiously than in pure organ toccatas. The four chorale arrangements were to be played on two manuals either as an echo effect or melody with accompaniment. The Clavierübung III was Bach’s first publication for organ, published in 1739, a year celebrating Luther’s reformed liturgy and reformed doctrine. It contains miscellaneous pieces of various compositional forms. Half of the hymn melodies in the chorales are of Gregorian origin. Spitta admired the Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV 533 for its expressive qualities such as ‘gloomy pride…melancholy…magic…gentle strength’.

Apart form the interest of listening to this finely restored historic instrument, there is the pleasure of Leonhardt’s persuasive interpretation. By combining brilliant technique with rhythmic sharpness, and rich expression with nicely played ornamented vocal lines, Leonhardt achieves a true mastery of Bach’s music on the organ. There is nothing boring about his performances; they are simple and display a characteristic vitality and individuality. The qualities of the organ seem also to aid Leonhardt’s zestful style. The registrations work well and all the lines of the texture are carefully etched. The only criticism would be that of occasionally clipped touch in the fast tempos, which, even though it gives energy, lets loose a full sound that sustains within the building’s acoustics.

Christina Antoniadou


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