Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Biblical Songs Op.99 (1894) [29:42]
Josef KLIčKA (1855-1937)
Sonata for organ in F sharp minor (1917) [34:24]
Klaus Mertens (bass baritone)
Susanne Rohn (organ)
rec. October 2010, Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg
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 a disappointment.
But for those interested in the Klička sonata, this disc is well worth your investment.
Jonathan Woolf
For those interested in the Klička sonata, this disc is well worth your investment.