Sometimes one feels like a small child in a sweet shop, such is
the mouth-watering selection of organ recordings on display. On
a high shelf and in the most imposing jar must be those from the
Finnish label Fuga, whose treats feature the Finnish organist
Kalevi Kiviniemi. I’ve commented at length on the technical and
artistic merits of these discs, most notably the Lakeuden Risti
recital that topped my list of picks for 2009 – review
Underpinning the success of this series is the work of producer/sound
engineer Mika Koivusalo, surely one of the finest of his breed.
I never tire of hearing his handiwork, which comes so much closer
to the live experience than anything I’ve encountered in 35 years
of listening to organ music. That, combined with well-chosen programmes
and instruments, makes these very desirable discs indeed.
This new recording, made in Finland’s Espoo Cathedral, is no different.
Well, it is a little, for the instrument you hear is now history.
-century cathedral has had several organs since
the first was installed in 1791, the latest a splendid 32-stop
instrument built in 1967. It was modified in 1989, gaining another
six stops, but in 2007 the cost of repair and refurbishment was
such that it made more sense to install a brand-new instrument.
Thanks to Mika and his brother Petri, Espoo’s organist and director
of its chamber choir, the distinctive sound of this organ has
been committed to disc; the last sessions were completed in January
this year, just a month before the organ was due to be dismantled.
And although it’s a family affair – and that includes the impressive
booklet photos – there’s no hint of vanity or self-serving publicity
here; indeed, there’s an abiding warmth and spontaneity to Petri’s
playing that is hard to resist. And while this isn’t the most
colourful or subtle of instruments it does have a lovely sparkle
to the upper registers, the bass full and resonant but never overpowering.
That’s probably an apt description of this programme as a whole,
the works – and registrations – judiciously chosen. The airiness
of the Bach concerto’s second movement is matched by lightly sprung
rhythms in the concluding Presto and playing of great dignity
and charm in the Lenten chorale O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde
(‘O Man, bewail your great sins’).
Anyone familiar with the sound of earlier Fuga discs will recognise
the abundance of detail and amplitude on offer here. This organ
is no behemoth, and there’s no attempt to turn this into another
of those dreary ‘organ spectaculars’. And even if you don’t have
an SACD player this hybrid disc sounds just fabulous in its CD
form, the Super Audio layer delivering even greater definition
and heft. As always, good production values tend to produce good
sonic results, and one senses equal care and attention has been
lavished on both mixes. It’s an approach I commended in my review
Channel’s recent disc of harp music from Lavinia
Meijer. There, too, technology is at the service of the music,
and that’s the way it should be.
Sulo Salonen may be unfamiliar to some – he’s certainly new to
me – but his Partita ‘Sen suven suloisuutta’
of that summer’) is a delightful set of five variations, the second
of which is despatched with fluency and charm. By contrast, the
third is rather bluff, focusing on the organ’s lower registers
and full, warm pedals. The cascading fourth is much sunnier, the
fifth the most majestic of them all. Not hugely inventive, perhaps,
but pleasing nonetheless. And there’s majesty aplenty at the heart
of Joonas Kokkonen’s Lux aeterna
(‘Eternal light’), which
modulates from devotion to ecstasy, culminating in a finale of
real radiance and power.
There’s no sense of the showman triumphant; yes, Petri’s style
self-effacing, but it strikes me as absolutely right
for this programme. Oskar Lindberg’s Old Folk-Chorale from
is a case in point; it’s rather dour, yet behind this
gruff exterior Petri finds a wistfulness that is most engaging.
All very different from Oskar Merikanto’s Wedding Hymn,
the start of which has a breadth, a grandeur that reminds me of
Kivineimi’s commanding survey of Sibelius’s organ works – review
And what a rich panoply of sound the Espoo instrument produces
here, the deep, rolling bass especially well caught. The Rheinberger
excerpt is much more fleet-footed, the focus on upper sparkle
and a discreet, rhythmic pedal.
As for the Mendelssohn sonata, I find the first movement rather
drab and airless. Typically Victorian, perhaps, all heavy swags
and thick rugs, but at least the second movement is lighter and
more deftly scored. Of the two Vierne lollipops Clair de lune
(‘Moonlight’) is just too lugubrious for me, and not even this
organist can penetrate the gauzy veil that hangs over this piece.
As for Carillon de Westminster,
the pacing seems too ponderous,
textures too opaque, with buoyancy and articulation the main casualties
here. Those famous chimes really ought to ring out more; also,
there’s a touch too much bluster in the finale. Not particularly
subtle, then, but a rousing send-off for this instrument.
I really don’t want to end on a sour note. This is still a most
enjoyable programme – the lesser-known pieces perhaps the most
successful – and I’d happily recommend it to organ buffs and audiophiles
alike. Ultimately, though, this is a tribute to a now-defunct
instrument, and what better eulogy than this beautifully produced