Organ Duo - Music for Four Hands
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
The Stars and Stripes Forever (arr. Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault) (1897) [3:52]
Paul Lindsley THOMAS (b. 1929)
Prelude Op. 29 No. 2 ‘Puer nobis nascitur’ [1:44]
Prelude Op. 29 No. 1 ‘Cradle Song’ [2:38]
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837)
Duet for Organ ‘Allegro’ (1812) [5:59]
Johann Christoph KELLNER (1736-1803)
Fugue in D minor (1795) [4:30]
Quartetto (1789) [4:17]
Adolph Friedrich HESSE (1809-1863)
Fantasy in C minor Op. 35 (1832) [4:48]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72 No. 2 (1886-1887) [4:50]
Gustav MERKEL (1827-1885)
Sonata in D minor Op. 30 (1858) [15:07]
Johann Heinrich LÖFFLER (1833-1903)
Gebet (Prayer) (1871)[2:29]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
The Ride of the Valkyries (arr. Clarence Dickinson and Charlotte Matthewson Lockwood) (1856) [3:59]
Jaana Jokimies and Irina Lampén (organ - four hands)
rec. 3-4 October 2008, Kotka Church, Finland
FUGA 9287 [56:07]
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 Brooke.
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 to boot.
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.
Another Fuga must for organ buffs and audiophiles.