Christmas: Improvisations on International Christmas Songs Lieb Nachtigall, wach auf (Germany) [1:47]
Maria durch ein Dornwald ging (Germany) [3:15]
O come, all ye faithful (Great Britain) [2:53]
Es ist für uns eine Zeit angekommen (Switzerland) [1:46]
Leise rieselt der Schnee (Germany) [2:51]
Leanabh an aigh (Scotland) [2:29]
We wish you a Merry Christmas (Great Britain) [1:10]
Morgen, Kinder, wird's was geben (Germany) [2:31]
Jingle Bells (USA) [1:59]
Alle Jahre wieder (Germany) [2:32]
Senti, senti (Italy) [3:53]
Mitt hjerte alltid vanker (Norway) [2:22]
Gdy sie Chrystus rodzi (Poland) [2:04]
Il est né, le divin Enfant (France) [1:58]
A Naí Naoimh' (Ireland) [2:09]
O little town of Bethlehem (Great Britain) [2:04]
Juleverset (Norway) [1:56]
Entre le boeuf et l'âne gris (France) [1:25]
Zumba zum (Spain) [1:44]
Bajuschki baju (Russia) [2:16]
Corramos, corramos (Venezuela) [1:44]
Navidava puri nihua (Bolivia) [1:45]
Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann (Germany) [6:48]
O du fröhliche (Germany) [4:29]
Kay Johannsen (organ)
rec. March 2011, Mühleisen-Orgel, Stiftskirche Stuttgart
CARUS 83.368 [60:00]
In a picture printed in the booklet, organist Kay Johannsen can be seen literally pulling out all the stops of his Stuttgart organ. He pulls out the stops too in his series of improvisations on international Christmas Songs. Helpfully - and this is something one doesn’t see too often - the registrations used in each of the 24 improvisations is noted in detail in the booklet. This reaches an apotheosis of Teutonic precision in the case of Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann, the registral detail of which is enumerated in the kind of depth previously reserved for the novels of Thomas Mann.
The Mühleisen organ in the Stiftskirche is well known to Johannsen, as he’s recorded improvisations on it before – but these were improvisations on sacred songs. This CD takes folk-influenced music, not sacred music, as its starting point. It’s a question of development and tonal variety as far as the improvising organist is concerned: how does one present melodies in a reshaped, refashioned or re-voiced way, but in such a way that the music is recognisable, attractive and valuably clothed? Johannsen’s answer is to present two or three statements of the melody with prelude, interlude and postlude. Almost always he avoids simply stating the melody just the once.
I have to say that in my view he has often succeeded rather admirably. He’s a sensitive and thoughtful musician, and chooses registrations with care. He infuses Maria durch ein Dornwald ging with a bittersweet, rather beautiful aura, and one senses swirling snow in his choice of registrations at the start of O come, all ye faithful, though I must add that, to these British ears, one can’t help but note a touch of Reginald Foort in his naughtier registrations in what is a rather schizoid piece of work. He calms down to beneficial effect for the Swiss Es ist für uns eine Zeit angekommen. I won’t note the particularities of each piece, which would be wearying, but will alight on a few details of interest. I really like the sound of the organ’s Waldflöte, and the flute registrations in general are deliciously avian and soothing. The darker colours and use of bells presents a joyful narrative in the case of Morgen, Kinder, wird's was geben and one can feel a dance band swing infiltrate, indeed galvanise and modernise, O little town of Bethlehem. (For some reason the English improvisations seem to bring out the eccentric in him.)
It’s Morgen kommt that inspires him to his most extended improvisation. It’s known in Anglophone countries as Twinkle, twinkle little star and Johannsen includes a waddling, drunken section, a touch of Widor’s Toccata and variations of increasing richness and dexterity. After which the noble bass patterns in the concluding O du fröhliche come as balm.
Very well recorded, this will certainly make a change next Christmas.
Jonathan Woolf
Very well recorded, this will certainly make a change next Christmas.