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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in d after Vivaldi BWV 596;
Allegro - Grave - Fuga [5'14]
Largo e spiccato [2'54]
Allegro [3'14]
Trio super 'Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend"' BWV 655 [3'54]
Pièce d'Orgue BWV 572 [9'03]
Partite diverse sopra il Corale 'Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig' BWV 768 [19'55]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)

Suite op 5: Prélude [8'06]; Sicilienne [5'56]; Toccata [8'22]
Samuel Kummer (organ)
Rec: Frauenkirche, Dresden, 16-20 September 2005 DDD
CARUS 83.188 [67'05]

Huge international media interest surrounded the re-opening of Dresden's Frauenkirche during October 2005. The church, famously destroyed by allied bombing at the end of World War 2, has finally been completely reconstructed, its circular dome completed in 1743, returned triumphantly to Dresden's skyline.

What is less known outside organ-circles is that along with the church, Dresden also lost one of the finest mature organs of Gottfried Silbermann, completed in 1736 and played by no less a figure than J.S. Bach. During the discussions surrounding the restoration of the church, much pressure was put on the authorities to reconstruct the lost Silbermann masterpiece. Unfortunately the decision was made to build an eclectic instrument on which a wider variety of repertoire is theoretically possible. The decision was singularly vision-less for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the scientific reconstruction of the Silbermann organ, rather like the reconstruction of the North German organ in Gothenburg, would have increased our knowledge of the organ-building methods and techniques of Gottfried Silbermann. Secondly because the instrument and the church were contemporary with each other, it was simply part of the lost structure. Thirdly, 'eclectic' organs are so common in Germany anyway, it is a shame that a more inspiring plan wasn't followed.

What of the organ which was built, then? On the face of it, the Alsatian builder Kern had an impossible job. An eclectic organ, using the reconstructed Silbermann case, but significantly larger than the original instrument with the fashionable 'Schwellwerk' Recit with Cavaillé-Coll style reeds, celestes and all. So, has Daniel Kern succeeded where almost everybody else in central Europe seems to fail, in building an instrument which, while trying to play a broad literature, really stands out from the crowd?

On the basis of this new Carus recording only, I actually believe he has. It is worth noting that the internal layout of the organ, and the winding system is based on the Silbermann organ. Kern has tried to use the Alsatian influences of Andreas Silbermann as an extra inspiration, and the result, if not really reminding us of Gottfried's last masterpiece in the nearby Hofkirche, is at least an organ of singular personality. The choruses have astounding éclat and the principals sing intimately. Even its chameleon-like transformation into the late French Romantic organ is startlingly convincing. Klais this isn't. Only the reeds seem to me to be uncomfortably neutral, especially those in the pedal seem to be neither fish nor fowl, and the temperament is of course very equal. I stand by my comments that this organ, as far as I and many others are concerned, represented the wrong course of action in the context of the whole Frauenkirche project, but as a new pointer to successful eclectic organ building, this instrument seems very very exciting.

The performer on this release is the newly-appointed titulaire, Samuel Kummer. Born in 1968 and a former student of Ludger Lohmann in Stuttgart, he plays with panache and charisma. The tempi in the Bach are quick, and his improvised cadenzas in the Grave of BWV 596 are excessive, but his Bach playing in general is considered and commands attention. The Duruflé I find a touch less convincing, the first two movements especially seem too brisk and not as flexible and atmospheric as they could be. The Toccata however is brash and exciting and the organ loves it.

This organ-story generated much negative hype, but buy this and come to your own conclusions about the instrument and admire the excellent playing of Samuel Kummer!

Chris Bragg

See also review by Dominy Clements



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