A pupil of Dutch master Jan Sweelinck, Heinrich Scheidemann
is one of the most important of 17th century organ composers.
His works have survived the centuries in considerable quantity,
not least because of the reputation he gained in his lifetime.
The greatness of his music is only slowly becoming more widely
acknowledged, and his seven Magnificat settings on this recording
by Swedish organist Karin Nelson are, for all their apparent
straightforwardness, among his finest works.
There are now several CDs available of Scheidemann's music,
almost all of which was written for the organ. Nelson herself
has already recorded a disc - volume 2 (8.554203) of 5 in Naxos's
edition of Scheidemann's complete organ music. This series is
in theory also available on three double CDs on the now apparently
defunct label Calcante (CAL 023, 024, 025), the first two volumes
of which were reviewed here
Scheidemann's cycle of Magnificat verses is based on the eight
psalm tones, Medieval formulas for plainchant recitation. However,
Scheidemann's set is in fact incomplete: the Magnificat VII
Toni was previously thought to be by him and is included as
such in, for example, a Naxos release from 2001 (8.554548).
Nelson, however, argues in her doctoral dissertation that, on
stylistic grounds, this is not by Scheidemann but by a student.
Certainly the hand behind this to date anonymous setting appears
less expert, although the work itself clearly follows Scheidemann's
models and still has plenty of interest. Meanwhile, there is
actually a second Magnificat VIII Toni by Scheidemann, unusually
in a single movement, not recorded here but played by Julia
Brown on the Naxos volume 5 mentioned above (8.557804).
Like the Magnificat VII Toni, the last piece on this double
disc was both anonymous and untitled in the Clausthal-Zellerfeld
manuscript, the source of all these works. This lay undiscovered
until the 1950s. In Nelson's words, the piece has "the
character of a long chorale fantasy on the Magnificat VIII Toni
and contains elements reminiscent of the next generation of
From the 15th century onwards Magnificat settings would have
been played between texts sung by the congregation. The importance
of the Magnificat to daily ritual meant that composers often
used the Church's requirement for verses to hone their composition
skills. That much is apparent from Scheidemann's authentic settings.
They’re all in four verses that bristle with feeling, invention
and gloriously uplifting melody. The chorale fantasies, in all
but one case the second verse of each Magnificat, are particularly
creative and virtuosic, whilst the ricercare third verses
are immensely atmospheric.
Nelson performs every work with marvellous technique and understanding.
The organ itself is new, the result of a project to reconstruct
on scientific principles an organ in the northern German Baroque
style, using the Lübeck cathedral organ as a model for its façade.
The sound recording is all one could wish for from an organ
recital. The CD booklet is a paragon: notes on the historical
significance of the Magnificat, its text in Latin and English,
a biography of Scheidemann, a discussion of the music, a description
and full specification of the organ, the registrations used
for every verse by Nelson, full production details and a two-page
colour photo of the beautiful organ, plus one of Nelson herself
on the back page, looking friendly and homely!
An outstanding disc in every regard.
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