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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



20th Century Swiss Organ Music
Paul MULLER-ZURICH (1898-1993)
Fantasia [3'33]
Canzone [1'45]
Introitus [4'29]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Fugue [2'48]
Choral [4'17]
Hans VOLLENWEIDER (1918-1993)
Vorspiel [2'32]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Passacaille [12'47]
Agnus Dei [4'04]
Ernst HESS (1912-1968)
Praludium op 60/4 [2'22]
Chaconne op 60/1 [3'29]
Conrad BECK (1901-1989)
Zwei Praludien [18'15]
Max KUHN (1896-1994)
Praludium und Fuge in C [2'30]
Pastorale und Fuge [2'36]
Praludium und Fuge in A [2'50]
Phantasie und Fuge (1975) [5'50]
Jeremy Filsell, organ
Rec Evang-Ref. Kirche, Kusnacht, Switzerland, 3-4 November 2004 DDD
GUILD GMCD 7285 [74'58]



This is an interesting disc featuring music unknown to most outside Switzerland - and possibly quite some organists within. Most of the music exhibits neo-classical tendencies, ranging from Conrad Beck's Hindemith-like invention, (in the first of the Zwei Praeludien at least), to the almost Franz Schmidt-like 'happy' counterpoint of Max Kuhn and Paul Muller-Zurich.

The best known work on the CD though, proves also to be the finest. Placed at the heart of the programme, Frank Martin's Passacaille receives a marvellously taut reading from Filsell, the tension held, as in a single breath, throughout the near-13 minute duration. For the rest, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of variety. The music in general is characterised, at best, by a sort of acerbic rigour, which is sometimes charming - as in the smaller works by Max Kuhn - but mostly rather unedifying. I think it unlikely that anyone would go out to learn these pieces; I was even disinclined to look at my copy of Honegger's pair of pieces. A shame because the idea of Honegger writing organ music is theoretically so appealing.

And yet I can't help feeling that Jeremy Filsell, whose dedication to the repertoire is very admirable and produces performances of insight, skill and charisma, may have shot himself in the foot yet again by choosing the wrong instrument. Here there is no question of stylistic imbalance; the 1940/73/90 Kuhn organ in Kusnacht has many neo-baroque registrational possibilities, and even a reasonably effective Schwellwerk with pseudo-French, (ish) reeds when required. But this is not an organ of any real quality; it has nothing that makes you want to listen to it for any length of time, not even that sort of 'truth-searching' compelling quality so typical of the organs of Zachariassen for instance. Here, the tutti is marred by the 'haircut' mixtures - such a shame at the end of the Martin Passacaille to have to endure this - none of the small combinations have any beauty, and the acoustic is meagre. How much more this recording might have aroused my interest had it been recorded on the famous Metzler of the Grossmunster in Zurich, a Swiss 20th century icon, and surely not a bad match for the music?

Well done to Guild for recording some unknown repertoire. Well done to Jeremy Filsell for some top-notch playing, but when can we hear you playing a really first class instrument?

Chris Bragg


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