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Sound clips and Downloads
Complete Organ Works:-
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, WoO 9 (1856) [4:46]
Prelude and Fugue in G minor, WoO 10 (1857) [6:15]
Fugue in A flat minor, WoO 8 (1856) [6:56]
Choral Prelude and Fugue in A minor on "O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid",
WoO 7 [7:26]
11 Chorale Preludes, op. posth. 122 (1896) [33:34]
Fugue in A flat minor [<WoO 8] [6:02]
Choral Prelude, "O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid" [<WoO
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. Odense Cathedral, Denmark. No date given. c. 1989? DDD
NIMBUS NI5262 [68:40]
Brahms is hardly known for his organ music, and indeed he wrote
very little of it - an hour's worth in total, a mere five works.
Yet the Lutheran music he grew up with at St Michael's Church
in Hamburg exerted a major influence on him and his compositions.
Also he retained a lifelong interest in early music, expressed
to a considerable degree in these few organ works.
Brahms wrote all but the 11 Chorale Preludes in his early twenties.
The disc opens with the very lively Prelude and Fugue in A minor,
WoO 9, a short but exhilarating introduction to Brahms's organ
music for anyone not familiar with it. The Prelude and Fugue
in G minor, WoO 10 is similarly electrifying, and in both parts
there is more than a nod towards the D minor Toccata and Fugue
BWV 565 attributed to J.S. Bach. The sheer quality of the writing
in these two works is overwhelming, yet their ebullience is
not typical of his organ works in general.
The chromatic Fugue in A flat minor is a much more sober, almost
lugubrious affair. There are two versions of this on the disc
- the second one is taken from the original 'first draft' manuscript,
and included for completeness' sake only, according to Malcolm
MacDonald's notes. It is certainly less convincing and altogether
less moving than the later rewrite, is not without interest.
The chorale Brahms chose for his Prelude and Fugue, "O
Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid", WoO 7 was an anonymous one from
the Mainz Songbook of 1628, reflecting his interest in early
music. The deceptively straightforward Prelude leads into a
beautiful, melancholic Fugue, whose subject is only loosely
derived from the chorale. An early draft of the Chorale Prelude,
this time fugue-less, is also included, again for the sake of
completeness. At barely two minutes in length, and more threadbare
than the original, it is of purely musicological interest.
A particularly compelling reason for buying this disc lies in
the fact that the 11 Chorale Preludes, Op. 122 constituted Brahms's
very last work, although they were not published until 1902.
From the magnificent opening chorale, 'Mein Jesu, der du mich',
to the tenderly poignant last, 'O Welt, ich muss dich lassen'
('O World, I must leave thee'), this superb work is a perfect
summation of Brahms the composer, with his immaculate ability
to make the music of the giants on whose shoulders he knew he
stood - in this instance, Johann Sebastian Bach - part of his
own time. The Preludes are full of contrapuntal character and
variety, and each is a jewel, from the fleeting but glorious
'Herzlich tut mich erfreuen', to the warm glow of 'Es ist ein
Ros' entsprungen', even the impossibly long sustained chord
at the end of the elegiac 'Herzliebster Jesu'.
The work is all the more touching in that, so close to the end
of his life, and shortly after his beloved Clara Schumann's
demise, Brahms was clearly aware of his own mortality. As if
to underscore the fact, he sets 'O Welt, ich muss dich lassen'
twice. Yet there is a subtle equivocation in the unquestionable
spirituality of this music that matches Brahms's own scepticism.
Perhaps these are homages to a god of the musical kind.
The organ of the cathedral at Odense, more commonly known as
St Canute's (Sct Knuds, in Danish), was built by Marcussen and
Søn in 1862, though retaining the magnificent original Baroque
façade. Marcussen expanded it twice, in 1934 and in 1965, so
that today it has 56 stops, listed helpfully in the booklet
- albeit it rather unhelpfully in Danish. It makes an aptly
awe-inspiring noise, and is played with great authority and
insight by Kevin Bowyer. Even at this early stage in his career
- the disc was originally published in 1990 - was already one
of the great organists of modern times.
Sound quality is excellently balanced and in general very good,
although there is a little background hiss noticeable at the
beginnings and ends of tracks - like the sound of wind rushing
through trees. The CD booklet includes decent notes on the music
by Malcolm MacDonald, and the melodies of the 11 Chorale Preludes
are all thoughtfully supplied. Curiously, the back page and
inlay claim the disc is not only mastered and manufactured in
England, but also recorded there! The cover photo ought to be
Odense cathedral, but is one of Karl Schinkel's imagined ones.