Organ Works - Vol. III
Sonata no.4 in F minor, op.115 [17:07]
Postlude, op.44 no.3 [2:30]
Chorale Studies - Ten Variations on the Chorale 'Wer nur
den lieben Gott lässt walten, op.116 [16:21]
Sonata no.5 in D minor, op.118 [14:23]
Fantasy in D minor, op.176 [8:07]
Sonata no.6 in E minor, op.137 [18:28]
Halgeir Schiager (1821/1896 Buchholz organ)
rec. St-Marien-Kirche, Barth, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, 19-21
May 2006. DDD
SIMAX PSC 1275 [76:56]
This is the third of four CDs by Halgeir Schiager of the most
important organ works of the north German composer Gustav Merkel.
The fourth (PSC1320) was released concurrently. The first and
second volumes were released together in 2009 (PSC1273,1274
- see review
Norwegian organist Halgeir Schiager's most notable recordings
hitherto have been his five volumes of Czech composer Petr Eben's
organ music for Hyperion (CDA 67194-8, released 2000-06), for
which he was widely praised. He comes to Merkel as an academic
expert on the composer, having presented his doctoral thesis
at the Norwegian Academy of Music on Merkel's organ music.
In all his Merkel recordings, Schiager performs on instruments
that the composer himself would have used, in this case a full-blooded
19th-century Carl August Buchholz organ in the St-Marien-Kirche
at Barth on Germany's Baltic coast. Here, once again,
he is a fine advocate for Merkel's undeservedly neglected
music, technically assured and winningly confident.
In his lifetime Merkel was pretty famous as an organist, and
his own music was popular not only in Europe, but even in America.
Like many 19th century composers, however, he fell victim to
fashion, dictated in part by self-appointed mavens, who derided
his music as 'derivative' - meaning simply that
it was nostalgic and non-innovative rather than forward-looking
and exploratory. Merkel is not entirely forgotten today, in
fact - he does at least have an entry in the New Grove dictionary,
albeit lacking the standard list of works. His organ method
continued to be used by students right through the 20th century.
As the booklet notes indicate, Merkel's organ music is
reminiscent of that of the younger Josef Rheinberger, himself
sadly rather neglected - a more meaningful reference might be
Mendelssohn or Max Reger. Moreover, Merkel spent the last thirty
years of his life as organist in Dresden. Given also his Lutheran
beliefs, it is hardly revelatory to say that the spirit of the
'Dresden Hofcompositeur' Johann Sebastian Bach
also looms large in these works - nowhere more so than in the
terrific fugue that closes the Sonata in D minor.
In his programme Schiager includes a single Postlude from Merkel's
four op.44. In his notes he does not explain the absence of
the remaining three, which do not appear on any of the other
volumes. On the evidence of his miniature firework, more's
the pity! The dramatic Fantasy in D minor is longer but quite
similar, with an interpolated reflective passage, and one of
the shamefully few of Merkel's works still in the organ
repertoire. The Chorale Studies op.116 are superbly paced and
sometimes brilliantly virtuosic. These ten colourful variations
on 'Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" really
ought to be performed frequently, not to mention recorded by
others. Like the other works in Schiager's recital, this
is a first recording.
Unusually, all nine of Merkel's Organ Sonatas are in
a minor key. They come in the same traditional format: three
five-minute movements, basically fast-slow-fast. Their classical
structure, detail, conciseness and melodic and harmonic attractiveness
will surely leave any audience wondering why they are not still
appearing on programmes across Europe and America! The spectacular
chorale-based fugue that concludes the E minor Sonata offers
a tantalising glimpse of Merkel letting his hair down, and leaves
the listener eager to get hold of volume 4!
The attractively designed English-German-Norwegian booklet can
be downloaded in PDF form for free here.
Schiager's notes are fairly dry, focusing on technical
description, but there is a lot of detail, including a separate
article on the different kinds of organs Merkel was familiar
with, and a very full disposition and piece-by-piece registrations
Editing is very good, but sound quality is reasonable rather
than brilliant, slightly muffled in the deeper notes, with a
hint of distortion in the loudest sections. One other minor
quibble is the lack of composition dates, though it may be that
there is no precise information on these.
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