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