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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Praeludium und Fuge uber BACH [13'27]
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen [17'27]
Fantasie und Fuge uber den Choral 'Ad nos ad salutarem undam' [31'56]
Kay Johannsen, organ
Rec: Stiftskirche, Stuttgart, 27-29 September 2004 DDD
CARUS 83.171 [63'13]


The great organ works of Liszt are nothing if not mainstream fare in the organ literature. I counted in my collection no fewer than eight recordings of Ad Nos: Bate, Demessieux, Drury, Fuller, Hock, Kynaston, Lippencott, Marshall. Gillian Weir has recently recorded it for Priory at the Royal Albert Hall - at least the third recording on that organ. One eagerly anticipates Louis Robilliard's new recording on Festivo to be released later this year. There is also Martin Haselbock's recording on the organ most closely linked with Liszt, the Ladegast instrument at Merseburg Cathedral. In other words to be recommendable in this field you have to be special.

So, is Johanssen? Well, yes and no. His performances are dark, supple, sometimes very atmospheric, and very musical, if, for my taste a little cold. His technique, and ability to make these huge structures hang together though is never in doubt. His choice of organ is certainly more apt than for his Mendelssohn recording; in fact this is Johanssen's own instrument, the brand new 81 stop Muhleisen organ in the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart. Unfortunately, no more information than a stoplist is given regarding the instrument. This shows the overwhelming ethos of central European eclecticism, but with many more 8' stops and more reed variety than is usual in such instruments. The variety of 8' colour is welcome, and in this instance appropriately reflects the Merseburg stoplist at the time of Liszt, but I couldn't help but be struck by the seeming lack of colour apparent in the recording. Partially, I suspect, this is due to Johanssen who takes few opportunities to use the variety of solo stops possible in the central section of Ad Nos in particular. The curious exception is the appearance of the Glocken, which nonetheless was possible in Merseburg! Despite the Merseberg aesthetic dictating that 8 flue variety is far more important than reed colour for instance, the organ comes over as being just slightly bland. Having listened to the disc three times, I am unable to recall anything especially beautiful or remarkable.

So, while I admire Johannsen's first-rate performances, I would still look elsewhere. Hans van Nieuwkoop's live recording of 'Weinen Klagen' in Alkmaar is still the most telling recording of this work for me. As regards 'Ad Nos', Nicholas Kynaston's epic reading on Carlton Classics, (later re-released on Guild) is still my favourite, both for his astoundingly gripping projection of this huge canvas, and the way in which he makes the not terribly beautiful 1977 Klais at Ingolstadt sound thrillingly Wagnerian.

Chris Bragg

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