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Organ Works

Three Preludes and Fugues Op 37 (1837) [23:34]; Andante in D major (1823) [3:10]; Passacaglia in C minor (1823) [5:28]; Chorale and variations (1823) [11:29]; Nachspiel (1831) [4:17]; Andante con moto in G minor (1833) [1:13]; Fughetta in D major (1834) [3:18]; Fugue in E minor (1839) [4:42]; Prelude in C minor (1841); Andante and variations in D major (1844); [5:05]; Allegro, Chorale and Fugue in D (1844) [7:36]; Six Sonatas Op 65 [71:34]; Andante in F major (1844) [3:06]; Allegro in B flat major (1844) [2:57]
Hans Fagius (organ)
rec. Ǻkerman & Lund Organ, Kokkola Church, Finland, 21-23 September 2008
notes in English and Swedish
DAPHNE 1033 [78:47+78:32]
Experience Classicsonline

The Mendelssohn anniversary has been celebrated in style by many companies with new recordings of familiar and unfamiliar works.

The present issue is a mixture of both, with not only the well known Sonatas and Preludes and Fugues but also thirteen shorter and less familiar pieces. It is an engrossing mixture where the composer’s skill and inventiveness is shown even in what are admittedly more minor works. The early Passacaglia of 1823, for instance, untitled in the manuscript and called “Ostinato” in the recent Bärenreiter edition, is clearly based on Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor. Whilst it is perhaps unfair to compare the two works, Mendelssohn’s early piece is certainly worth hearing for its energy and craftsmanship, especially in this performance. This should be no surprise given the miracle of the Octet, and admittedly it does not begin to approach the quality of that work, but it is no mere prentice work. 

I could make similar comments on most of the short pieces on these discs. It is a great pity that they seem to be little known outside organ circles as there is much enjoyment to be had from them here. They are more varied in character than their titles might suggest, and even if they are no masterpieces they are worth hearing, as of course are the major works here. The Preludes and Fugues have an obvious origin in the music of J.S. Bach, but they are no slavish imitations of his style, and they are very varied in character. For example the first, in C minor, begins with an energetic and extrovert Prelude followed by a gentler Fugue in 12/8. The second, in G minor, has in contrast a gentle Prelude in the style of a Song with Words followed by a chromatically wandering Fugue. All three are amongst Mendelssohn’s best music, as are the six Sonatas. I was delighted to hear the latter again so soon after the recent Chandos disc (CHAN10532) on which William Whitehead played them on the organ of the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace. Both are outstanding, although I must admit to a slight preference for the Chandos version as the less resonant acoustic and closer recording is more vivid in its impact and allows the more complex passages to emerge much more clearly. Nonetheless the present version also has strong merits, and as part of a two disc set does enable the listener to get to know significantly more of the composer’s music for organ. Both players understand the composer’s idiom, and present the music in a forthright, unsentimental but never crude manner. 

One special merit of the present set is the accompanying booklet in which Hans Fagius introduces the music in no less than 14 pages of notes written in a very approachable style almost as if the player were speaking directly to the listener. These are fascinating and add much to one’s understanding and enjoyment. Unusually the organ registration is not included, but perhaps this is a positive decision intended to demonstrate that the discs have a potential appeal beyond the organ specialist. If so, I welcome it as these discs do very much deserve to be heard in wider musical circles.

John Sheppard 




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