German organist Jurgen Sonnentheil has recorded works of a quite
unknown composer, Wilhelm Middelschulte. Although Middelschulte
was born in Germany, he lived for a long time in Chicago. His
music is nevertheless typically German, featuring a strong feeling
for harmony and counterpoint. His harmonic language is, in general,
quite chromatic and comparable to that of composers such as
August Gottfried Ritter.
difficult for me to be enthusiastic about this CD. The first
work featured is a canonic fantasie on the BACH motif, and a
fugue on four famous themes by J.S. Bach. The fantasie is in
fact a passacaglia, with a lot of canonic elements in the voices
which accompany the constantly repeated motif in the bass. The
fugue is based on fugue subjects by Bach, including that of
the d-minor fugue BWV 565, and the Ricercare from ‘Das Musikalischen
Opfer’. Although the music contains a lot of ideas, its structure
is very fragmentary and I missed the overall tension necessary
to bind the piece together. Contrapuntal structures are very
complicated. Although Middelschulte was a good craftsman, his
music makes little emotional impact. Instead of variations featuring
tension and resolution, the music quite often comes over as
static and boring.
second piece is the ‘Konzert über ein Thema von Jos. Seb. Bach’.
Most of the melodic material used in this composition is based
on the theme of the e-minor fugue by Bach BWV 548. The work
also contains a short Scherzo. I think Middelschulte’s music
is most convincing in his non-contrapuntal passages, such as
in this short movement. The CD ends with Bach’s famous Toccata
and Fugue BWV 565 in an arrangement for organ and piano by Middelschulte.
Again, I have the same feeling; although the composer adds a
lot of notes to the original piece, all of them are completely
sound of the Gerald Woehl Organ in Cuxhaven is warm and appropriate
for performances of German romantic organ repertoire. Sometimes
the instrument sounds a little too neo-baroque for me, especially
in the initial speech of the principals, which is too direct.
Jurgen Sonnentheil’s playing is fine, but not extremely convincing.
The pianist Philip Mayers’ playing is, for my taste, too light
in the fast passages of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. One should
play Middelschulte’s arrangement in a heavy and pathetic manner,
rather than alla Ton Koopman…..