The Finnish label Fuga is synonymous with exemplary organ recordings
- notably those engineered by Mika Koivusalo - and they tend
to feature fine local instruments and players. Indeed, these
recordings underline the extraordinary range of organs in Finland,
their interiors lovingly photographed and displayed in the liner-notes.
The organ in the neo-Gothic Kotka Church is no exception; built
by Martti Porthan Organ Builders in 1998 for the 100th anniversary
of the church, it’s modelled on the Gottfried Silbermann
in Freiburg Cathedral. And anyone who has read George Eliot’s
Middlemarch will remember the profound effect the latter’s
‘mighty tones’ had on our sensitive heroine, Dorothea
The Baroque-style organ featured here certainly has plenty of
heft - it boasts three manuals, pedals, 44 stops and around
3,000 pipes - so it has the potential to be somewhat overwhelming
in music for four hands. As it happens, organists Jaana Jokimies
and Irina Lampén have come up with a varied and interesting
programme; at just 56 minutes of music it may seem short measure,
but in deference to your playback equipment - and your neighbours
-it’s quite enough to absorb in one sitting. And where
better than to start with Sousa’s rousing Stars and
Stripes Forever, in an arrangement by organ duo Elizabeth
and Raymond Chenault. It’s rhythmically alert and remarkably
transparent, helped in no small measure by a well-managed and
entirely natural recording.
Make no mistake, this is no mere hi-fi spectacular but an object
lesson in how best to record this instrument. I have a review
disc on my desk right now that must be one of the worst organ
recordings I’ve encountered; it’s bloated, diffuse
and dynamically compromised, a dreadful recording in every way.
So, savour these Fuga offerings, for they are as good as it
gets. Initially I was slightly less enthusiastic about Paul
Lindsley Thomas’s two preludes, dedicated to the Chenaults,
but seconds into ‘Puer nobis nascitur’ I was swept
away by the sheer panoply of sound created here. As expected
the music never loses its composure, a world away from the fatiguing
‘wall of sound’ one often hears on rival discs.
The rocking pedal that underpins the ‘Cradle Song’
is superbly rendered, providing just enough ballast for Thomas’s
luminous melodies. As for the recording, Koivusalo preserves
enough of the church’s acoustic to ensure the sound is
never blurred or buffeted by distracting oomph or echoes. A
delightful foil to the flamboyant Sousa, and winningly played
Samuel Wesley, whose tunes are heard and sung in churches and
cathedrals around the world, is represented here by the first
movement of his Duet for organ. Despite the fact it was
written in 1812 the piece has a strong Baroque flavour. It’s
very light on its feet - pedals are not included - and it all
sounds so fresh and spontaneous. As always with this duo, registrations
are well chosen, which enhances the clarity and charm of this
delectable excerpt. But there’s nothing small-scale about
Johann Christoph Kellner’s Fugue in D minor, with
its imposing melodies and thundering bass. The latter has a
dark, throaty character that is beautifully caught here. As
for the Quartetto, it has a bounce, a joie de vivre,
that is just irresistible.
Determined to vary the menu as much as possible, Jokimies and
Lampén follow that lighter course with Adolph Friedrich
Hesse’s rather more filling Fantasy in C minor.
Their playing is animated as ever, although the music is a little
short on variety and colour. Such caveats hardly apply to Dvořák’s
Slavonic Dance No 2 in E minor, from the Op. 72 set.
This Starodávny has a simple gravitas and thrilling
pedals, those rising melodies nicely shaped and projected. Very
different from the massive Sonata in D minor by
Gustav Merkel, which has all the rigour and scale of an organ
showpiece by Liszt. Yes, textures may seem a little clotted
at times, but then the mixture is leavened somewhat by the light
Adagio. As for the final Allegro, it has a marvellous sense
of scale and momentum.
After all that unbridled power the cool repose of Löffler’s
Gebet comes as a welcome relief. The translucence of
the organ’s upper reaches is beautifully captured here,
as are the gentle pedals. What a pity, then, that the arrangement
of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is so underwhelming.
Still, full marks to Jokimies and Lampén for battling
to keep these amazons airborne.
Not one of Fuga’s very best, perhaps, but the music-making
and sonics are as impressive as ever. The glossy booklet has
decent notes - written by the organists themselves - and it’s
lavishly illustrated. Another must for organ buffs and audiophiles.