Jan JANCA (b. 1933)
Organ and choir works - Vol. 3
Small Suite in five Movements (2006)1 [14:55]
Missa Orbis factor (2005)2 [10:43]
The church year in 16 chorale preludes (2006)3 [39:27] (full list of movements below)
Rondo for organ (2006)3 [6:54]
1Andreas Sieling (organ); 2Opus Vocale/Volker Hedtfeld; 2Felizitas Rodach (organ); 3Wolfgang Baumgratz (organ)
rec. 16-17 October 2008, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin (Suite and Mass); 16 April 2007, Bremen Cathedral, Bremen (Chorale preludes and Rondo)

The Polish organist-composer Jan Janca is new to me, but having heard an earlier MDG release of organ music from neighbouring Lithuania - review - I belatedly realised there is an extensive catalogue of organ music beyond the core German and French repertoire we all know so well. MDG certainly do a good job of unearthing out-of-the-way repertoire, and a quick listen to this new Janca disc - featuring two fine German instruments - suggested this might be another winner.

Janca’s Small Suite in 5 Movements is played by the German organist Andreas Sieling on the Karl Schuke organ of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. A fairly recent instrument - it was built in 1962/3 - it has a lovely mellow sound that suits the gentle cadence of this charming suite. Entrée, the first movement, is built on a stately descending motif, the second, Cantilène, a songful adagio. And despite the use of oft repeated figures there’s no hint of dry didacticism in either the Danse lente or the rather Bachian Chorale. The Finale is as fiery as it gets, but that too is characterised by writing of real poise and restraint. Indeed, this is music of surpassing gentleness, sensitively played and warmly recorded.

Restraint is the key word in Missa Orbis factor as well, the vocal resources supplied by Opus Vocale, a collection of experienced singers from across Germany. It’s a full Sunday Mass, the Fauré-like Kyrie, light and mobile, supported by Felizitas Rodach on the organ. The Gloria is rather more animated, building to a most colourful climax, but I imagine some listeners might find the Sanctus/Benedictus and concluding Agnus dei somewhat lacking in character. The recessed chorus and the overly warm acoustic tend to reinforce that impression.

We move to Bremen Cathedral, with its restored 99-stop Sauer organ, for the Church year in 16 chorale preludes, based on well-known liturgical tunes. Of the first five Fling wide the gates is a sparkling miniature, The night will soon be ending is played over dark, velvety pedals and The Saviour is born is characterised by some cheeky dissonances. And just in case you think this is all a little too laid back, Silent night emerges with unexpected angularity. Janca also surprises with a sinewy response to Nicolai’s lovely How brightly shines the morning star.

Mahlerians will know Three angels singing from Des knaben wunderhorn and the Third Symphony, but may have some difficulty discerning it in this slow, rather dark little number. That said, Christ is risen surely has something of Messiaen in its broad, ecstatic writing, whereas Now pray we all Holy Spirit and O Lord we praise thee have a more familiar devotional appeal, the Bremen organ sounding rich and resonant throughout. Meanwhile, A ship called community is tossed around by some choppy pedals, Come here, sing to the Lord has a slightly smoother ride and Blessed are those who walk there shines with a bright, steady light.

The final foursome alternate between the all-encompassing warmth of From the bottom of my heart and the more static harmonies and deep pedals of Now all the forests to rest, to the simple restraint of Rejoice greatly, o my soul and the sonorous splendour of Sleepers, wake. The excitable little Rondo is a spirited piece, again underpinned by Janca’s trademark of repeated pedal figures.

Any caveats? Well, apart from the overly warm acoustic - especially noticeable in the Mass - Janca’s expressive range isn’t particularly wide, or the level of invention very high. That said, these are good, workmanlike pieces, winningly played; indeed, this disc is worth acquiring for the delightful Suite alone.

Dan Morgan

The church year in 16 chorale preludes (2006):-
Macht hoch die Tür (Fling wide the gates) [0:55]
Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen (The night will soon be ending) [1:47]
Der Heiland ist geboren (The Saviour is born) ]1:01]
Stille Nacht (Silent night) [1:29]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star) [1:38]
Es sungen drei Engel (Three angels singing) [4:22]
Christ ist erstanden (Christ has risen) [2:14]
Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist (Now pray we all Holy Spirit) [1:51]
Gott sei gelobet (O Lord, we praise thee) [2:23]
Ein Schiff, das sich Gemeinde nennt (A ship called community) [3:08]
Kommt herbei, singt dem Herrn (Come here, sing to the Lord) [1:57]
Wohl denen, die da wandeln (Blessed are those who walk there) [1:24]
Aus meines Herzens Grunde (From the bottom of my heart) [1:21]
Nun ruhen alle Wälder (Now all the forests to rest) [1:52]
Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, o my soul) [2:31]
Wachet auf (Sleepers, wake) [2:27]