biggest question about this disc is “why?” The focus of this
rather haphazard collection of French, German and English music
is slightly hard to pinpoint, the vague title, ‘Sounds Baroque’
not helping matters. The repertoire, consisting of “representative”
works of Bach set against lesser-known works of others, spans
an almost bizarrely broad spectrum; from Purcell to Couperin,
to Böhm, to Carl Phillip, to John Stanley. Conceptually the
CD seems to come from a bygone era, (“Hurford plays Casavant”
or some such?). The bizarre mix of languages in the track listings
adds to the feeling of uncertainty.
what about the music-making and the instrument? I suppose if
one wanted to choose a really international 18th
century organ, Andreas Silbermann would be a good place to start.
The current instrument is Peter Collins’s style copy in the
St Saviour’s Church in St
sounds good here, some roughness in the reeds aside, but neither
the individual stops, nor the choruses are of a quality that
makes one want to listen to them for nearly 80 minutes, especially
not in the relatively unfavourable acoustic environment. Why
a real Andreas Silbermann organ wasn’t chosen is unclear, it
almost smacks of laziness. While this would make an interesting
concert programme on this instrument, we live in an age of wall-to-wall
organ recordings, including recordings of virtually every wonderful
historic organ one could imagine. There is simply no reason
to record this music on a lesser organ. Predictably some music
is better served than others; Muffat, Kirnberger, and to a slightly
lesser extent Couperin, sound more convincing than the late
18th century offerings, either in the Sturm und
Drang of C.P.E. Bach, or the more introverted, or at least
English, gallant style of Stanley.
playing is a rather mixed bag in general. My biggest single
problem relates to Charleston’s pedal playing. His manual articulation
is for the most part highly developed; his variety of attack
and release enables him to express crescendi, diminuendi etc
without problem. His pedal playing is far less musical though.
This is clearly evidenced in the Bach works. Take BWV 663 as
an example. Here Bach uses the pedal in two quite distinct ways,
firstly quoting directly from the cantus firmus, and secondly
as the basso continuo. Charleston’s pedal playing, almost legato throughout
no matter the intervallic structure, completely fails to make
the distinction, and most seriously fails to express the beat
hierarchy in the continuo sections. In the d minor fugue the
pedal similarly fails to reflect the very logical articulation
of the subject given in the manual at the beginning. Equally
irritating in the otherwise well-paced fugue is a fussy registration
scheme; no fewer than six changes, starting 8’4’ and ending
with the plenum including the reeds. If the plenum isn’t beautiful
enough to stand having the whole fugue played on it, surely
the wrong organ was chosen?
general Charleston’s playing is musical, neat, tidy, and sometimes,
especially in Toccata and Fugue of Bach and the sonata of C.P.E.
Bach, highly expressive. However the earlier literature suits
him less well; the Couperin lacks the required flexibility in
the tactus, the Böhm is too ordinary, especially in the free
sections. The problem is partly due to the instrument, how,
for example, can one very mild temperament - Vallotti - be expected
to provide the required key colour for such a variety of music?
In truth it provides very little. Overall however I feel that
what is missing is an acute feeling for a variety of affekts
on the part of the performer.
booklet is excellent, but it doesn’t save an otherwise all too