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Himmel und Hölle
Aivars KALEJS (b.1951)
Toccata uber den Choral von J.S. Bach, "Allein Gott in der Hoh Sei Ehr" [4'32]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Legende Nr 1: Die Vogelpredigt des Hl Franziskus von Assisi (transc G Berger) [12'20]
Der Hl Franziskus von Paula auf den Wogen schreitend (transc Max Reger) [11'15]
Petr EBEN (b.1929)
Walpurgisnacht VIII aus dem Faust-Zyklus [8'02]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Toccata aus der Suite op. 5 [7'55]
Naji HAKIM (b.1955)
Quatre Etudes-Caprices (Pedal Solo) [12'49]
Sir George THALBEN-BALL (1896-1987)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini (Pedal Solo) [7'55]
Sergei PROKOFIEV transc Jean Guillou
Toccata op.11 [4'13]
March from The Love of Three Oranges op.33 [1'46]
Iveta Apkalna, organ
Rec: St Martin, Wangen, Allgau, 16-18 September 2004 DDD
EDITION HERA HERA02117 [71'58]


No question who or what the star of the show is here. The remarkable young Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna takes centre-stage in a programme of astonishingly virtuosic and mostly little-known works. Apkalna (b. 1976) studied organ and piano in her home country, before moving to London to pursue piano tuition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Thereafter she continued her organ studies in the Conservatory of Stuttgart under Ludger Lohmann. She has already performed all over Europe and won prizes both there and further afield, for example at Calgary.

Her playing is frankly astonishing, her concert pianist training clearly evident. This is a refreshingly original programme of extremely demanding pieces, including no less than twenty minutes of pedal solos (gimmicky to say the least). Apkalna makes it all sound heart-breakingly straightforward. Best played are possibly the Eben and Liszt. The division between the pieces related to Heaven and those related to Hell is rather subjective and ultimately fairly arbitrary. The Duruflé Toccata, the only piece of really mainstream repertoire, is flawlessly whizzed through. I would have preferred a little more profundity, this is after all what Louis Robilliard described as "an epic poem, a new Pièce Héroïque", more than a mere show-stopper.

While I can understand the choice of organ for such a diverse programme, I find it a little unimaginative. It is a 1987 Rieger of 39 stops and sounds like an extremely typical work of that builder from the late Glatter-Gotz period. Every stop is voiced as a solo stop, big chunky flutes, french-ish reeds in the 'Schwellwerk', rock-steady wind, a curiously dull tutti, and an overwhelmingly neutral eclecticism, (doubtless combined with the finest engineering imaginable in large-scale European organ building). While the organ is spot-on for the Eben, how I would have liked to have heard the Liszt transcriptions played on the famous Walcker in the Cathedral in Riga, Latvia where Ms Apkalna is seen playing in one of the many photos of her in the booklet. The notes in the latter are good, but the English is rather poorly translated.

Recommended for the unusual repertoire and the sheer virtuosity of the playing. It will be interesting to see what this phenomenally talented organist records next. I hope to hear her in some perhaps more mainstream repertoire on a really first-rate organ.

Chris Bragg


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