Brahms' organ music
is a tough nut to crack. One could never
describe it as optimistic, despite the
early flair of the Preludes and Fugues.
The op. 122 Chorale Preludes are the
composer's last work, and the first
organ works he had written in some 39
years. Fortunately, in this release
from Hortus, this music has found an
interpreter of rare insight, and two
organs perfectly suited to the task.
is a former student of Bernard Lagace
and Louis Thiry among others. He is
organist of the Andreas Silbermann organ
in St Thomas in Strasbourg, and of the
1732 Lefèbvre organ in the Rouen
Hospital Chapel as well as organ teacher
at the Rouen Conservatory. His playing
is characterised by a deep feeling for
the rhetoric of Brahms' music. He is
in touch with the melancholy of much
of the op. 122 cycle. He has a rather
classical approach to Brahms' time signatures
in the preludes, and their tempo implications.
His sensitivity can be heard especially
in O Traurigkeit; such a plaintive
beginning to the disc. This is profoundly
conveyed, as is the early vigour of
the Preludes and Fugues. But the key
to his genius is in his choice of instruments.
I would never have thought of the Zaltbommel
instrument as the organ for the early
works of Brahms but it works perfectly.
The organ was built in 1786 by the Rotterdam
builder Wollferts, and later modified
by Heijneman and Naber, and finally
gloriously restored by Blank in 1986.
It is housed in an imposing red, west
end case in a church with a handsome
acoustic of some six seconds and features
beautifully smooth fonds, marvellously
expressive flutes, weirdly composed
mixtures, - the organ was of course
primarily designed to lead congregational
song - and somewhat agricultural reeds.
The latter are at least partially the
thumbprint I suspect of Naber; there
are Naber pipes in all bar two of the
reed stops, and in general his reeds
tend toward roughness. The organ is
famously impractical - mostly because
of those weird mixtures - for playing
organ literature, and the current organist,
Reitze Smits, has become famed in the
Netherlands for his transcriptions of
piano and orchestral music, some of
which he has recorded there. Hearing
him live performing in Zaltbommel is
one of the most unforgettable organ
concert experiences imaginable in the
The second organ, on
which Menissier performs the Chorale
Preludes, is a Walcker instrument of
1844. More dark-hued than the Zaltbommel,
its variety of 8' colour suits Brahms'
late music fantastically well.
The booklet contains
an excellent essay by Vincent Genvrin
about Brahms' relationship with the
organ, and a note from Menissier on
his choice of organs. And at last Hortus
provide us with specifications and photos
of the instruments, and even the registrations.
This recording of the
complete Brahms organ works is a model
of its kind and is unlikely to be superseded
any time soon. Make sure you add it
to your collection.