Link to Fuga Web Shop
Espoon tuomiokirkon urut 1967-2010
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in G after Johann Ernst, BWV 592 (1713) [8:44]
Chorale Prelude ‘O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross’, BWV 622 (1713-1715) [5:09]
Chorale Prelude ‘Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf’, BWV 617 (1713) [2:13]
Sulo SALONEN (1899-1976)
Partita ‘Sen suven suloisuutta’ (1942) [7:14]
Joonas KOKKONEN (1921-1996)
Lux aeterna (1974) [4:21]
Oskar LINDBERG (1887-1955)
Old Folk-Chorale from Dalarna (1936) [4:20]
Oskar MERIKANTO (1868-1924)
Wedding Hymn (1901) [5:39]
Joseph Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Cantilène from Sonata in D minor, Op 148 (1887) [4:41]
Organ Sonata, Op 65 No. 3 (1844) [10:32]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Pièces de fantaisie, Op 53/5 - Clair de lune (1926) [10:20]
Pièces de fantaisie, Op 54/6 - Carillon de Westminster (1927) [7:19]
Petri Koivusalo (organ)
rec. August, November 2009, January 2010, Espoo Cathedral, Finland
FUGA-0292/MKSACD 43 [72:01]
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. The 15th-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 gross (‘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 of Visions, 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’ (‘The loveliness 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 is self-effacing, but it strikes me as absolutely right for this programme. Oskar Lindberg’s Old Folk-Chorale from Dalarna 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 recording?
Dan Morgan

A tribute to a now-defunct instrument, and what better eulogy than this beautifully produced recording ... see Full Review