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Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Präludium und Fuge ůber das Thema B-A-C-H [14’32]; Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen – Präludium nach J.S. Bach [7’57]; Variationen ůber den Basson continuo des ersten Satzes der Kantate ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, Angst und Not der Christen Tränenbrot’ und des ‘Crucifixus’ der h-Moll-Messe von J.S. Bach [19’07]
J.S. BACH arr LISZT Drei Bach Bearbeitungen: Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir’ nach dem Eingangschor der Kantate BWV 38 [5’24]; Adagio aus der 4. Sonate fűr Violine und Cembalo BWV 1017 [3’59]; Einleitung und Fuge aus der Kantate ‘Ich hatte viel Bekűmmernis nach dem Schlußchor ‘Das Lamm, das erwűrget’ BWV 21 [6’02]
J.S. BACH Passacaglia BWV 582 [14’42]
Michael Schönheit, organ
rec. Merseburg Dom, 27-28 October 2004 DDD



This is an extremely valuable release of Liszt’s music played on the organ for which much of it was conceived; the first recording since the instrument’s restoration. The first large Romantic organ in Central Germany, and the largest organ in that country at the time, Friedrich Ladegast’s Merseburg masterpiece was completed in 1855. Since the 1960s, when a misguided restoration removed some original stops in favour of neo-baroque examples, the organ hasn’t sounded optimal for the music with which it is so closely linked. As well as the great works of Liszt, this was the organ on which Julius Reubke first performed his now renowned Sonata on the 94th Psalm. Now, a joint project between Eule, Wegscheider and Scheffler has restored it to its former cohesion, including the reconstruction of the lost Ladegast stops.

The aural result is undeniably remarkable. The variety of 8’ colour is typical of the style of course, however, what is perhaps more interesting is the variety of mixture-work which adds greatly to the colour, though, much like the later organs of Sauer and Walcker, not to the power of the choruses. The reeds of course play a very secondary role in such an instrument, most are free-reeds. The overall impression is one of a mostly restrained early-Romantic grandeur, with a clear classical orientation evident in the chorus-work and even in the flexible wind which wobbles noticeably in tutti passages.

This release is a very interesting and well-documented 19th century performance-practice project. The little-known prelude on Weinen, Klagen is played following the registrations for the Merseburg organ recorded by Liszt’s pupil Alexander Winterberger, while Bach’s Passacaglia is played following the registration plan of another of Liszt’s colleagues, the great organ builder Töpfer, for his own organ in the Weimar Stadtkirche. Not surprisingly this makes extended use of the softer colours, and an overall crescendo. It is interesting to consider that the practice of making a crescendo in the Passacaglia probably originates from this time and this sort of organ. All the registrations are printed in the excellent booklet. Also fascinating are Liszt’s seldom-heard transcriptions of the non-organ music of Bach.

Michael Schönheit is the titulaire of this remarkable survival. His musical performances demonstrate his familiarity with the organ and with the style. However I found his playing to be lacking a little in expressiveness and drama. A pity this, as this is an otherwise significant and very valuable release.

Chris Bragg

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