The music of Emil Sjögren is barely known outside Sweden.
Sjögren, well known in his time as an improviser, was organist
in the Johannes Church in Stockholm and studied in Berlin. He
wrote music for a variety of forces and Alexandre Guilmant is
even known to have performed the g minor Preludium och Fuga
in the Paris Trocadero in 1906. This is the only recording of
his complete organ works.
Sjögren's style features a, for the time, not unusual
lyrical warmth, as well as sometimes well-wrought counterpoint.
His fugues are a little dry and academic, typical crescendo-fugues,
though many worse cases of '19th century fugue-itis' exist!
The opening Fantasie, originally for piano is quite a
charming piece, though the transfer to the organ is not entirely
satisfactory, the result is rather four-square. In general the
free pieces are obviously the work of somebody more preoccupied
with improvisation than composition. At their best, a kind of
almost Elgarian sweep can be sensed. More often they are rather
wandering, often featuring endless pedal-points. The second
CD, made up of the Legender miniatures perhaps gives
a clue to the liturgical improvisation style of Sjögren, but
are actually of minimal interest. The great exception amongst
Sjögren's work is the Preludium och Fuga in a minor,
which in terms of quality of ideas and succinctness of form
is outstanding. The juxtaposition of the two opening ideas,
the build-up of the fugue and the neat recapitulation of the
opening material easily make this his finest organ work. My
colleague Graham Scott (a fellow contributor to these pages),
is, as far as I know, the only organist outside Sweden to have
championed the work; a pity, because this piece could become
very popular with British organists and would sound very well
on British Romantic organs.
Ralph Gustafsson is to be admired for his commitment
to this repertoire which he plays with conviction and musicality.
His instrument, the heroic 1927 Akerman and Lund, (with material
from 1878), is similar to the Akerman organ played by Sjögren
in the Johannes Church, and sounds well despite the meagre acoustic.
It features a great number of 8' stops, stellar pedal reeds,
(including a full length 32' Kontrabasun), limited reeds elsewhere
(and these mostly colour stops such as Klarinett and Euphon)
and little in the way of upperwork. A very fine child of its
A well produced and interesting reference piece then,
but in the main not great music.
FEW ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM THE EDITOR
double CD set, in a single width case, contains, bar a few organ
exercises of slight musical worth, the complete organ works
recording project engaged organist Gustafsson at several levels.
He edited the music and researched and wrote the booklet note
and of course he plays the music. Gustafsson's essays on the
man and the music are encyclopedic, personal and vividly evocative
of the composer’s character. It is just as well that Sjögren's
wife was such a strong promoter of the music for its creator
did little or nothing for it and took criticism with an understanding
smile. On the other hand anyone who attacked one of his idols
was liable to be rounded on with surprising fury. Editor.