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Principally Organ - Twentieth Century Organ Concertos
Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)

Organ Concerto Op. 38 (1927) [39:16]
Anton HEILLER (1923-1979)

Organ Concerto (1963) [24:01]
Max BAUMANN (1917-1999)

Organ Concerto (organs, strings and timpani) Op. 70 (1964) [4:55]
Thomas Schuster (organ)
The Assumption Grotto Orchestra/Eduard Perrone
rec. 4-5 Oct 1999, Austin Organ op. 2243, St Raymond Catholic Church, Detroit. DDD

Grotto is the label of Fr. Eduard Perrone, the incumbent of St Raymond Roman Catholic Church, Detroit. Fr. Perrone is a hands-on practical musician with a burning mission to present the works of Paul Paray. Paray of course, made a great impact as conductor of the Detroit Symphony in the 1950s and 1960s. More of the Paray recordings later.

There are two non-Paray discs in the Grotto list. This is one - with an unequivocally German accent - while the other has the Detroit Chamber Trio in violin sonatas by Vierne and Bonnal and the piano trio by Henri Dallier.

You might have heard of Braunfels. His opera Die Vögel was recorded as part of Decca's Entartetemusik series in the 1990s. There are two other operas, a major symphonic mass, a Te Deum, a Resurrection Oratorio, orchestral pieces plus music for chamber ensemble and solo piano. He rose to high office in the Köln conservatory but was fired in 1933 due to his part Jewish ancestry and his politics which rejected the Nazi creed.

The Braunfels concerto is a massive work which could easily carry the mantle of Organ Symphony had the composer felt that way inclined. The first movement is turbulently passionate; at times surgingly aspiring in its writing for strings which is reminiscent of the rough-waved seas of Finzi's writing in the clarinet concerto and Dies Natalis. This largely relentless cannonade of energy also recalls the more muscular moments from Vaughan Williams' Concerto Grosso. With ears still ringing the listener will surely greet the restful and starry serenity of the Chorale - a glistening prayerful benediction. Once again there are some unnervingly Finzian moments here and an emotionally balanced cortege (5.55) with some breathtaking arpeggiated introductions. A trumpet cantilena unwinds without a care over the superbly paced strings and organ. In this movement the solo instrument certainly does not jostle everyone else aside - it is there as a meek sustaining voice. Then in a startling gesture the choir join at 11:24 with an ethereally stratospheric setting of Gegrußet Jungfraue (Hail O Virgin) over trembling violins. At this point the writing resembles some of the more blissful hymnal pages in Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals.

The third movement is an Interludium in a vein similar to the Adagio though less exalted. Then comes an angular Fuge which, initially academic, becomes more emotionally engaging. Parts of this reminded me of Schmidt's Hussar Song Variations from about the same era. Until the recording sessions the concerto had lain unperformed since 1933.

Schuster handles the far from demonstrative demands of the solo part with great aplomb and with a suitably deferential approach to the organ's primus inter pares role with the orchestra. The stirring eloquence of the piece rises to new heights as the trumpet curvets on high at 6.32 and the movement is crowned by the return of the choir singing Zion hört den Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchman sing). The brass provide an affirmative celebratory bell-swung signature as the piece ends.

The Braunfels Organ Concerto was premiered in February 1928 with Furtwängler conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Gunter Ramin the dedicatee as soloist.

Anton Heiller's Organ Concerto is more spiky - tart with dissonance rather than dogmatically serial. It might best be compared with Weill's Second Symphony (recently and wonderfully recorded by Naxos with Marin Alsop review). Here the organ plays a much more adversarial and brilliant part than in the romantic consonance of the Braunfels. The trudging steadiness of the Lento is shot through with a shadow of disquiet. The purposeful and gripping Risoluto ends the piece in an explosion of thunder.

The Heiller is scored for double winds, english horn, contrabassoon, timpani and strings. It was premiered in Haarlem in 1963 by the Netherlands Philharmonic with the composer at the organ and Henri Arends conducting. Heiller was very much a Vienna man and lived there all his life; not that this was an obstacle to various world tours as an organist.

Bauman died in 1999 at the age of 82 having been a pupil of Distler and Blacher. His 1964 Organ Concerto is less spiky than Heiller's and on the evidence of the Presto movement is most artfully scored using a theme that sounds like a mirrored image of the Dies Irae chant..

The liner notes are good and have been contributed by Thomas Schuster the organist.

I owe it to the unfailing generosity of Jacques Kleyn that I discovered the Grotto Productions catalogue and this disc in particular.

This is a refreshingly original anthology of organ concertos that breaks free from the predictable.

Rob Barnett



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