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Nineteenth Century Organ and Choral Music
Theophil FORCHHAMER (1847-1923) Sonate Nr.2 in e-Moll, op.15 ‘Zur Todtenfeier’ (pub. 1886) [25:04]
Aus Acht Choralbearbeitungen, op.11 (pub. 1887)
Es ist gewisslich an der Zeit [2:00]
Jesus meine Zuversicht [2:33]
Theodor KIRCHNER (1823-1903)

Aus Orgelkompositionen, op.89 (pub. 1890) [14:33]
Benedict JUCKER (1811-1876)

Aus Neun Choral-Vorspiele, op.7 (1867)
Mein Jesu den die Seraphinen [2:43]
O’ wie so gar sanftmüthig [2:03]
Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade [2:22]
Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)

Messe in f-Moll, op.159 für Chor und Orgel (1889) [22:04]
Ursina Caflisch (organ)
Cantus Firmus/Clau Scherrer
Rec. Katholische Pfarrkirche, Ilanz, 27-31 October 2004
GUILD GMCD 7290 [74:36]

A word of clarification, or a narrowing of the geographic range, is necessary here. Of the four composers on this Guild CD, Jucker and Forchhammer are Swiss-born, Kirchner is a German who spent many years in Switzerland and Rheinberger is a German born in Lichtenstein. Except for the Mass by Rheinberger, all the works are for organ alone, ably played by the Zurich organist and teacher Ursina Caflisch. The organ works are further joined together, especially in the cases of Forchhammer and Jucker, by a use of Baroque forms and practice, treated in a Lisztian manner.

A twenty-five minute organ sonata may not be to everyone’s taste, especially one that is subtitled "For a Funeral Service’. But this piece by a Swiss organist-composer well-known in his time is far from gloomy, starting out with a heroic introduction and then proceeding through a lengthy first movement partially based on the chorale ‘Jesus, mein Zuversicht", which is also set by Forchhammer as one of the two chorale arrangements accompanying the sonata on this disc. The second movement is a quiet, Bach-like interlude, with parts of the chorale ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ appearing, before leading directly into the third movement, which also utilizes this chorale and leads to a cyclic finale that is both impressive and touching. This is a discovery worth hearing again.

Unlike Forchhammer, Theodor Kirchner is still remembered today, especially in Switzerland, where he spent thirty years, for his lyrical and effective miniatures for piano and organ and his songs. He also wrote some important chamber works, which have been surprisingly well-covered by the record companies. Here we have six excerpts from a collection of organ works published in 1890, although some date from earlier in his career. These are in the same tradition of late 19th/early 20th century organ music as the smaller works of Vierne or Arthur Foote and are equally attractive. All are amiable and charming, with tracks 10 and 12 being somewhat more substantial. Kirchner is not afraid to make the organ sound as lyrical as the piano or the human voice, without forgetting the characteristics unique to the instrument.

Although I found the Jucker pieces not as attractive as Kirchner’s, organist Ursina Caflisch really is at her best when playing them. Jucker was the organist at Basle Catheldral in the mid-19th century and is best known today for his Fantasie und Fuge uber das thema B-A-C-H, which as been recorded in recent years. In each of the three Choral-Preludes recorded here Jucker does interesting things with the chorale melody, putting it mostly in the pedals in No. 2 or barely letting it appear in No. 7. This is well-wrought music, ably using Baroque conventions, but not nearly as moving as the Kirchner or Rheinberger selections.

Rheinberger is of course the best known of the disc’s four composers. Here we have one of his half-dozen or so masses accompanied by organ, with Ms. Caflisch accompanying. Rheinberger is sometimes claimed or acclaimed as a proponent of the 19th century Cecilian movement in Catholic liturgical composition, but while definitely influenced by this movement, his masses vary in how much they adhere to its principles.

This particular mass, in F-minor, seems to be more or less in the middle. It is simple, clear and reverential, but not lacking drama. The most beautiful sections are in the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. This mass has been recorded before by Wolfgang Schaefer and the Frankfurt Kantorei and one’s choice of recording may come down to the accompanying selections on the two discs. The recently formed Cantus Firmus under Clau Scherrer seem to be coming together well, although the Pfarrkirche is not perfectly suited to this type of choral music.

Ursina Caflisch has been the organist of the NeuMunsterkirche in Zurich since 1982. She has made recordings of organ music by Brahms, Rheinberger, Franck, Vierne as well as recordings of twentieth century Swiss music. She naturally has a complete understanding of the solo works on this CD at the same time that she effectively accompanies the group Cantus Firmus in the Rheinberger mass. The organ she plays on this recording is that of the Pfarrkirche in Ilanz, which though of recent provenance, shares many of the features of the organs by Friedrich Haas (1811-1886) that would have been familiar to the composers featured on this CD.

William Kreindler

see also review by Dominy Clements



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