Josef Klička was born in Klatovy, Bohemia, in 1855. He
studied in Prague, and later taught his instrument, the organ,
for many years. He clearly made extensive use of traditional
forms in his own compositions, not least in his 1917 Organ Sonata,
long considered lost, but which has now been found. It was re-discovered
amongst the composer’s papers by Moravian organist Petr Rajnoha,
who edited it and recorded it. Now another performance comes
to light, this time by Susanne Rohn who performs from Rajnoha’s
edition and plays on the instrument at Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg
built by Wilhelm Sauer in 1908 - the same man who back in the
1880s had constructed the organ in the Rudolfinum in Prague
that Klička often played.
The sonata is a fine, expansive, indeed almost symphonic work.
It’s saturated in Bohemian procedure, cross-pollinated with
a Leipzig influence, and thus doesn’t adhere to Franckian principles
at all. The first movement is cast in sonata form and what one
notices immediately is its communicative late-Romantic lyricism.
The lovely ‘harmonica’ registrations of the slow movement, an
Andante con moto come as a distinct shock after the burnished
amplitude and drama of the opening Maestoso. Dynamics
are daringly pressed – pianissimi however register well – and
this (in effect) pastorale accrues real feeling and expression.
For his final two movements the composer unleashes successively
a Toccata and a Passacaglia. The staunchness of the form is
matched by the invention with which these two movements are
deployed. The Toccata is virtuosic and powerful whereas the
Passacaglia is both resplendent yet personal, avoiding too much
clotting in its harmonies and enshrining some sepulchral bass
musing amidst the splendour and drama of its realisation. The
peroration is dramatic indeed.
Susanne Rohn plays with real drama and sensitivity. I’ve not
had the opportunity to hear Rajnoha’s recording so can’t compare
and contrast. The chance, however, to hear a fine performance
on an organ by Sauer is not to be missed.
For a companion work the compilers have enlisted that fine bass-baritone
Klaus Mertens, accompanied by Rohn, to sing Dvorák’s Biblical
Songs. The notes don’t advance much of a case for this inauthentic
procedure; the composer wrote these songs for voice and piano
and though he later orchestrated the first five, and others
orchestrated the remainder, no one rescaled the work for voice
and organ. The rationale – a very shaky one – is that ‘the replacement
of the piano part by the organ is not only justified by their
religious content, but also by the compositional design of the
“Biblické píisne”’. Mertens is a good singer, best known for
his Bach recordings with Ton Koopman. Here he is on less safe
ground and his Czech is imperfect. It’s inevitable that the
organ accompaniment should be slower than a piano, and its delay
tends to impede the natural incision of the songs - especially
true of the fourth and fifth settings. In all, something of
But for those interested in the Klička sonata, this disc
is well worth your investment.