Mathias Kjellgren is a thirty-three year-old organist from
Stockholm. He has participated in close to a dozen recordings for the Swedish
Nosag label, which as many will know, specializes in liturgical
and organ music from Swedish churches. In addition to teaching
he is the organist at the St. Maria Magdalene Church in Stockholm. On this disc he plays the organ of the church in the town of Norrtälje, which is located about thirty
miles north-east of Stockholm.
The organ dates from 1872, built by P.L. Åckerman and was
totally rebuilt in 1971, although some stops were retained.
Five years ago further stops and an additional digital console
were installed. Though the organ does not have a big sound,
it has a very bright one that is a pleasant change from those
on many organ recordings. As we will see this is the perfect
type for an organist of Kjellgren’s abilities.
present CD offers a selection of short works, many of them
standards, chosen to illustrate the Norrtälje organ. Most
of them were not written for the organ: there are a number
of transcriptions from piano, chorus, orchestra. Kjellgren
starts off with best foot forward: two works by Bach, played
in a flowing, lively manner. The Grieg Late Spring
that follows is lovely and could convince one to only listen
to this piece on the organ, so carefully are the registrations
chosen. The Ritual Fire Dance is the most thrillingly
played item on the disc. I was surprised how good this piece
sounded on the organ and also how well Kjellgren did with
his phrasing, although the actual sound occasionally veered
into the world of silent movie music. The Ravel and Wagner
that follow are disappointing; both are played in a stolid
and lockstep fashion that besets much of the playing on this
disc. On the other hand, the Saint-Säens Fantasie, actually
written for the organ, is played very well, utilizing all
the instrument’s power and realizing the composer’s intentions.
The Swan is also well-played, but the sound comes out
as rather dull.
Poème has always struck me as a little overly refulgent,
but beautiful nonetheless. Kjellgren plays it straightforwardly
with effective pacing and voicing. The same cannot be said
of his version of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana.
Here the tempi are all wrong and this is emphasized by the
over-reverberant sound, which the engineers seem to have done
nothing to counter. These sonic defects are also heard in
the three Ellington pieces, although they didn’t stop the
organist from demonstrating a quite convincing jazz style.
Elgar’s Salut d'Amour is played straight, but could
use a bit more coloring. I’m sure many will agree with me
that Debussy’s Clair de Lune does not belong on the
organ, but it is played here in a fairly idiomatic way. Kjellgren
again does well with Spanish rhythms in the Lefébure-Wély
Boléro de Concert although the piece is maybe a bit
too lively for him. The Londonderry Air is played glacially,
sound a lot closer to northern Sweden than I had realized.
clear sound of the Norrtälje organ lays clear both the weakness
and the strength of Mathias Kjellgren’s playing. His weakness
is to play some works in a very four-square style just short
of what would be an optimum tempo for that particular piece.
He has two strengths. The first is his the ability to use
control of the range and dynamics of an instrument to make
a piece sound as if it was written for the organ. Second he
has the ability to keep his voices clean and audible. In this
he is not helped by the acoustics of the church, as mentioned
above. The engineering for this recording is serviceable,
if not impressive. It would be interesting to have a record
of Mathias Kjellgren on this instrument playing larger pieces
actually written for the organ.