Regular readers will know how much I admire Fuga’s organ recordings. At the heart of this ongoing enterprise are the organist Kalevi Kiviniemi and his producer/engineer Mika Koivusalo, whose Lakeuden Risti SACD was my top pick for 2009 (review
). Quite simply, this and their other discs are among the most natural and immersive organ recordings I know. That wouldn’t count for much without Kiviniemi, whose unerring musical instincts are seldom in doubt, whether it’s a Dupré showpiece played on a great, roaring Cavaillé-Coll or a Nordic hymn tune picked out on a well-behaved local instrument.
Indeed, hearing the remarkable range and quality of Finnish organs has been one of the abiding pleasures of this series. The fairly modern Kangasala in Ylistaro Church, south Ostrobothnia, is no exception. Inaugurated at the church’s 100th
anniversary in 1952, it was the focus of Kiviniemi and Koivusalo’s 2002 recording which, in turn, was ‘reworked’ for release as an SACD in 2012. I wasn’t aware of this until after
I’d played the disc for the first time, and such is the technical wizardry employed here that I’m sure most listeners would also assume this was an up-to-the-minute Super Audio original.
That’s only the first surprise; the second is the music itself. Chosen for its devotional character – it was the church’s sesquicentennial after all – this unusual programme contains much that is new to me. Kiviniemi sets the scene with his lovely little fantasia on a Ylistaro chorale melody. The warm, forgiving tones of this organ are most beautifully rendered, and the discreet ‘walking bass’ is pure delight. There’s a pleasing blend of clarity and spaciousness too, and no disfiguring echo.
The Lindberg and Granstam pieces, based on Swedish chorale tunes from Dalecarlia and Leksand respectively, are blessed with a simple gravitas that’s intensely moving. The rich, dark hues of the Lindberg – and its glowing cadences – are especially memorable; and while the religious character of this music is unmistakable, Kiviniemi imbues it with a quiet splendour that’s impossible to resist. Similarly, the Granstam piece has an understated majesty, the all-embracing swirl of sound as close to ‘being there’ as it’s possible to get.
Lindberg’s arrangement of the Alfvén Elegy
brings out the open-hearted loveliness of this fine instrument, whose honeyed tones rarely seem too fulsome or too sweet. Kiviniemi is as judicious as ever, his registrations and self-effacing style ideal for this repertoire. As a recording one is constantly aware of serried ranks of sound rather than a towering wall of it, and that adds greatly to one’s enjoyment of this disc. Even the rather more extrovert Bradbury hymn emerges with an amplitude that, while impressive, is always carefully scaled and cleanly articulated. As for Alexander Ewing’s Jerusalem the Golden
, it’s a tantalising vision built from the most radiant sounds imaginable; indeed, that long, sustained finale evokes a marvellous sense of certainty and strength.
Much of the material on this disc lasts for just a few minutes, which could so easily result in a ‘bitty’ recital. That it doesn’t is a mark of good programming, the luminous Giardini a pleasing contrast to what’s gone before. True, it’s not all memorable music, but that matters less when it’s recorded with such an powerful sense of presence. The deep bass – so essential to the organ experience – has an almost bodily resonance that’s very rare in a recording. No qualms about the quality of the Guilmant Lamento
, whose rocking motif and Stygian pedals have seldom sounded so plangent.
As for Kiviniemi’s chorale prelude, based on a Swedish chorale melody, it’s dwarfed by the somewhat glutinous arrangement of the closing chorus from Bach’s St Matthew Passio
n. The latter is the one piece I’d happily forgo, which certainly isn’t the case with the nine chorale preludes from Marcel Dupré’s 79 Chorales
(1931). They’re not played in chronological order, which may seem strange, but if that makes for more contrast and variety then it’s hardly an issue. In any case, this is organ music of the highest quality, the mellow Kangasala well-suited to this selection. Indeed, ‘In dulci jubilo’ (No. 41) sounds unusually playful here.
I did say there were no showpieces, but No. 74 is suitably stirring. It’s the perfect foil for the haunting No. 1, in which the organ sounds deliciously ‘woody’. As for No. 29, Kiviniemi keeps it light and supple, before making a most joyful noise in No. 19. The disc ends, parenthetically as it were, with Kiviniemi’s ‘outro’ based on another Ylistaro chorale melody. The organ’s sparkling upper reaches and its tight, rolling bass are shown to best advantage here.
This recital achieves three things; it celebrates spiritual continuity, it showcases this organ, and it marks something of a pilgrimage for Koivusalo, who has strong and enduring ties with Ylistaro. As with the Espoo recording – review
– there’s a rare sense of connection with a church and its community. In that sense this low-key programme seems utterly right, even if its appeal may be somewhat limited. That said, anyone looking for something more flamboyant and/or familiar need only turn to the other superb discs in the Fuga catalogue.
A very unusual issue, thoughtfully played and beautifully recorded.