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Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Symphonic Chorale “Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade” op 87 No 1 (1911) [7’11]
Völlige Hingabe op 66 No 1 (1906) [3’35]
Sphärenmusik op 66 No 2 [5’48]
Ich steh an deiner Krippe hier op 66 no 3 [3’50]
Sanctus op 48B No 1 (1908) [3’43]
Pastorale op 48B No 2 [8’40]
Abendstern op 98 No 1 (c1914) [4’39]
Nun Danket alle Gott op 65 no 59 (1909) [4’03]
Vom Himmel hoch op 65 no 10 [2’53]
Vom Himmel hoch op 78 no 20 (1912) [3’55]
Symphonic Chorale “Nun ruhen alle Wälder op 87 No 3 (1911) [15’48]
Rupert Gough, organ
Rachel Gough, violin
Natalie Clifton-Griffith, soprano
rec. Downside Abbey, 4, 6 April 2005. DDD
LAMMAS LAMM 186D [64’55]



After some very indifferent recent releases, Lammas get themselves back on track with a bang. This recording of Karg-Elert’s so-called Symphonic Canzonas is a triumph for all concerned.

The repertoire on this disc is unusual and yet should be so much better known one feels. Sigfrid Karg-Elert is best known as a prolific composer of organ music, but it was news to me, I must confess, that he had also written music for various combinations of organ, soprano and violin. The wonderfully melodic shorter settings of 17th and 19th-20th century religious texts, mostly strophic, are particularly attractive. The musical style can be compared to that of Reger, but Karg-Elert’s sweeter harmonic language, chromatic without becoming saturated in endless modulatory twists, and his more human feel for emotional gesture, and tension-building,  remind me, in a way, more of Richard Strauss. His use of the organ as an accompanying force is extremely imaginative. Of the shorter settings, four are scored for violin, soprano and organ, and the beautiful ‘Abendstern’ for soprano and organ alone. Much of the musical material is derived from Lutheran Chorales; ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ is a setting of the whole melody, ‘Ich steh an deiner Krippe hier’ presents the melody with only minor alternation in the latter verses. ‘Sphärenmusik’ also quotes ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ extensively.

Perhaps the most remarkable work on the disc is the Symphonic Chorale, ‘Nun ruhen alle Wälder’ featuring all three performers. The work begins with the organ alone which comments, in improvisatory fashion, on the opening four verses of the text. The violin enters, after nearly seven minutes of music, and the voice enters finally some two minutes later with the text of verse 7. The subsequent fantasy, during which the Cantus Firmus is passed between the forces, concludes with the organ alone; the final calm section including a quote from the famous Lullaby of Brahms.

The disc also includes two solo organ works, including the famous ‘Nun Danket alle Gott’ op 65 op 59, and two works for violin and organ, both ravishing, but perhaps the Pastorale could have been a little more succinct.

Rupert Gough’s organ playing is marvellous, with a tremendous sense of colour and atmosphere and a wonderful ear for the challenging acoustic. His choice of organ is ingenious, the big 1931 Compton at Downside Abbey is one of the most extended non-theatre organs ever built I suspect, (142 stops!), providing with its total enclosure (in three boxes), an almost inexhaustible range of kaleidoscopic colours and dynamic flexibility. It is both the ideal instrument for the literature and the ideal accompanying tool for the soloists. Rachel Gough’s effortless and musical playing - what a wonderful sound, never drawing undue attention to itself - and the beautiful singing of Natalie Clifton-Griffith make this a real success-story. Perhaps the latter’s German vowels are just a little too anglicised?

The booklet is first rate with excellent notes by Anthony Caldicott, and the recorded sound is enchanting.

Very highly recommended.

Chris Bragg



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