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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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The Birds and the Springs
Nikolaus BRUHNS (1685–1697)
Prelude and Fugue in E minor [8:55]
Louis Claude DAQUIN (1694–1772)
Noël Grand Jeu et Duo (c. 1645) [5:54]
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c. 1637–1707)
Choral Prelude Von Gott will ich nicht lassen [2:37]
Louis VIERNE (1870–1937)
Carillon de Westminster (1926) [6:48]
Hans Friedrich MICHEELSEN (1902–1973)
Toccata from Organ Concerto II, Es sungen drei Engel (1943) [6:12]
Johann PACHELBEL (1653–1706)
Ciacona in F minor [8:48]
Nicolas Antoine LEBÈGUE (c. 1631–1702)
Noël, cette journée [1:54]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562–1621)
Variations on Est-ce Mars [5:45]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678–1741)
Largo from Concerto for Sopranino and Strings in C (transcr. Bengt Berg) [3:13]
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE
Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor [7:20]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Choral Prelude, O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig [9:07]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908–1992)
Communion. Les oiseaux et les sources
(The Birds and the Springs) from Messe de la Pentecôte (1950) [6:28]
Bengt Berg (organ)
rec. Matteus Church, Stockholm, May 1974 (Bruhns–Micheelsen), Vånga Church, Östergötland, 12–15 September 1974.
PROPRIUS PRSACD 7742 [74:23]

 



It is indeed amazing to listen to these thirty-plus years old recordings coming up fresh as paint in this CD transfer. The effect is lent added clarity and a feeling of space through Surround Sound 4.0. Originally this was comprised two separate LPs, recorded on very different organs in very different acoustics. Matteus Church has a very lively acoustic but through extensive experimenting with microphone placement Bertil Alving has managed to get a full and pleasant sound, extremely clear and detailed. The Marcussen & Søn organ was constructed in 1971-72 and has 52 registers, disposed over five independent divisions corresponding to the four manuals and pedal. Basically it is a classical instrument but it has resources to perform music from all epochs, successfully demonstrated here. The Vånga organ, by the same builders, installed in 1966, is a smaller instrument but the church has a reverberation of about 7 seconds, which means that Alving had a quite different task. When listening to the disc one hears the differences but most of all one reacts to the very natural sound in both cases, analytical with warmth, not overwhelming as can be the case but highly listener-friendly. Proprius has always been renowned for their highly successful organ and choral recordings and this is a disc in the front line. I have owned the Vånga LP since it was new and returning to it after some time I was struck by the even higher definition of sound and the dynamic width that the LP was unable to reproduce at full.

The programmes are wide-ranging, spanning music from late 16th century or early 17th century Sweelinck to Messiaen from the mid 20th century. Bengt Berg, born in 1935, had a close relationship with both instruments, since in the mid-1960s he worked in Östergötland and was engaged in the planning of the new Vånga organ. From 1964 he was organist of the Matteus Church until his retirement in 2000. He is also known as an arranger, one example of this is included on this disc, the transcription of Vivaldi’s concerto for sopranino. He also set hymns and songs for choir and instruments. Some time ago I reviewed another Proprius disc (see review) Now the Green Blade Riseth, with Berg’s arrangements. To some extent his arranging skills became a compensation for his diminishing ability to play; in the 1980s he contracted multiple sclerosis. Luckily he was able to set down these two records and some others when his powers were still unbroken.

Precision, clarity and rhythmic bounce were always his hallmarks besides a discriminating registration that brings out the best from each composition. Little of the repertoire actually belongs to what can be labelled ‘standard fare’, but everything is interesting in its own way. From the terrace dynamics of Daquin’s variations on a Christmas Carol, via Lebègue’s even earlier work along the same lines, a really captivating little creation that for many years was as much part and parcel of our Christmas celebrations as ham; English speakers may read turkey instead. Pachelbel’s Ciacona is one of the finest organ works from the early German baroque, as are the two works by his roughly contemporaneous compatriot Buxtehude. The latter, whom Bach famously walked to hear playing at Lübeck, is actually regarded as Danish. He even held a post as organist in Helsingborg, nowadays Swedish but in those days part of Denmark. The Prelude and fugue in F-sharp minor is a masterpiece. Micheelsen may be the least known of the composers here. He was active in Hamburg, studied with Hindemith and took inspiration from him, the so-called Neu Sachlichkeit (New objectivity). The second organ concerto, from which we hear the Toccata, was written in 1943 and is based on Es sungen drei Engel, the old German Christmas carol, which also plays an important part in Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler.

Maybe the most fascinating and stirring composition is Messiaen’s Les oiseaux et les sources, which also lends its title to the whole disc. It is just one of many works by the French master mirroring his great interest in ornithology. The shimmering colours always make a deep impression; still the booklet notes point out that “on the Vånga organ it has only been possible to approximate to Messiaen’s detailed registrations.” For me this has never been a problem since it was this recording that introduced me to this music. Hearing Messiaen’s successor as organist of the Church of the Trinity in Paris, Naji Hakim, playing the master’s music on the instrument for which he wrote it, made me realise some years ago the even wider possibilities the romantic Cavaillé-Coll with its sixty stops can offer. Messiaen’s work, however, has such potential that even a compromise brings out its greatness.

A booklet in English and Swedish with good comments on the music, a bio of the organist and descriptions of the two organs further enhances the value of this issue. It is good to be able to exchange the slightly worn Vånga LP for this superb SACD issue.

Göran Forsling

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