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Franz SCHMIDT (1874-1939)
CD1

Variationen und Fuge uber ein eigenes Thema [20'16]
Praeludium und Fuge Es-Dur [29'23]
Toccata [8'51]
CD2

Fantasie und Fuge D-Dur [22'57]
Vier kleine Choralvorspiele:-

O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort [3'13]
Was mein Gott will [1'41]
O wie selig seid ihr doch, ihr Frommen [4'13]
Nun Danket alle Gott [1'20]
Chaconne [27'46]
CD3

Praeludium und Fuge C-Dur [22'58]
Fuge F dur [9'09]
Vier kleine Praeludien und Fugen:-

Es-Dur [6'55]
c-moll [9'06]
G-dur [11'12]
D-dur [9'37]
CD4

Choralvorspiel zu Joseph Haydn's "Gott erhalte" [13'00]
Der Heiland ist erstanden [10'35]
Praeludium und Fuge A-dur [11'55]
Toccata und Fuge As-dur [15'55]
Andreas Juffinger, organ
rec: Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, October 1988 DDD
CAPRICCIO 67 093/96 [4 CDs: 58:40 + 61:53 + 68:57 + 51:05]



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This is a re-release in one package of Franz Schmidt's complete organ works recorded fifteen or so years ago by Andreas Juffinger and presented chronologically, the works being written between 1916 and 1935. To the best of my knowledge this is the only complete recording of this composer's organ works.

Schmidt represents a curious figure in 20th century organ composition. Comparatively prolific in terms of large-scale pieces, and a rough contemporary of, for example, Louis Vierne, this Austrian enigma (of Hungarian descent) is known among a few British organists, and then mostly for just two pieces: the Toccata in C and the small Prelude and Fugue in D. The Prelude of the latter is actually an organ solo for his oratorio The Book with Seven Seals which some readers may remember was performed at the Proms a few years ago. Listening to the entire oeuvre confirms that these indeed are the two most immediately attractive pieces, the sonata-form, energetic Toccata is especially compelling. It also raises the question though of why the large-scale pieces receive so much less attention than the large-scale pieces of, for example, Reger, or indeed Karg-Elert. Schmidt's bitter-sweet harmonic language, instantly recognisable, is to my ears more listener-friendly than that of either of the aforementioned, with the possible exception of some of the later pieces, especially the ultra-chromatic Toccata and Fugue in A-flat. Probably the leviathan nature of many of Schmidt's pieces have led in fact to their neglect. Who else could write Preludes and Fugues of 25 or 30 minutes, or Chorale Preludes of more than ten? The question then is quite simple, is the neglect justified? I believe not, even the longest Preludes and Fugues, while sometimes structurally extremely complex, have a kind of fascinating inventiveness, which repays repeated listening. Some pieces are of course more interesting than others, the earlier pieces, especially the E-flat Prelude and Fugue and the Toccata appealed to me most.

The Austrian organist, Andreas Juffinger presents what must have been a mammoth undertaking with virtuosity and commitment. Unfortunately his choice of organ is poor. Although it is known that Schmidt disliked the orchestrally-inspired organ and organ building prevalent in his time, the choice of a sterile and colourless Klais (I believe), instrument in a rather dry acoustic is unworthy of the music. No information about the organ is given. This is deeply regrettable in any organ recording.

Chris Bragg
AND

In the music of Franz Schmidt, the influence of the neo-baroque is obvious. In many of his works, old forms are used - for example Chaconne, Fugue, or in the Toccata, sonata form. Almost all of his compositions are counterpoint based, with clearly audible voice-leading. Schmidt’s music is always transparent, unlike for example the contrapuntal works of Max Reger, though extremely dense texturally. The ‘building-blocks’ of the larger pieces are in most instances clearly separated, often with a rest. Harmonically, Schmidt’s earlier works are the most tonal. In the Toccata and the E flat Prelude and Fugue, the harmonic language is frequently Hindemith-like. The later works become progressively more chromatic, (the late A major Prelude and Fugue is very dissonant). The Chaconne is more Reger-like. This is one of Schmidt’s most colourful works.

Unfortunately I find that many of his works are too long and indeed long-winded. His inability to sustain tension across a large scale is possibly a reason that his music is not played very often. It takes a composer such as Reger to write highly inspired music for forty minutes in a work such as the Introduktion, Variationen und Fuge über ein Originalthema.

To record the complete organ oeuvre of Franz Schmidt and to make it consistently interesting it is important that the organist is extremely good and that the instrument is of a high quality. Unfortunately, in my opinion neither is the case here. Andreas Juffinger’s playing is fairly expressionless while the instrument is no more than a characterless factory product. I look forward to a new release of Schmidt’s works where both organ and organist are a better match to the music.

Gijs Boelen



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