Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
The Complete Organ Works - volume 7
Erste Sinfonische Kanzone (Kanzone und Toccata), op.85 no.1 (1910) [13:26]
Zweite Sinfonische Kanzone, op.85 no.2 (1910) [20:58]
Chaconne and Fugue Trilogy, with Chorale, op.73 (1910) [33:30]
Stefan Engels (organ)
rec. St Mary's Basilica, Kevelaer, Germany, 28-29 March 2011. DDD
PRIORY PRCD 1062 [68:11]
The German composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert was no great organist, but along with much else he did write a lot of magnificent music for the organ, most of which still suffers from unforgivable neglect - none more so than the three works on this disc. Besides many transcriptions and arrangements, of his own and others' music, Karg-Elert also wrote dozens of original works for the instrument, and since 2005 German organist Stefan Engels has been recording all of them on various organs for church specialists Priory Records. This is volume seven, with eight released concurrently (PRCD 1063) (see review of volume six).
Engels is remembered by some perhaps for his two volumes of Marcel Dupré's organ music for Naxos in the Nineties (8.554210, 8.553920). Coincidentally, his Priory edition is in direct competition with that of fellow German Elke Völker on the Aeolus label, although she now lags slightly behind - volume 6 of her series, subtitled 'Ultimate Organ Works', came out at the turn of the year (AE 10721). The latter three Aeolus discs do have the advantage of Hybrid Super-Audio quality, yet the completion of Völker's traversal is, for financial reasons, by no means certain. The three works featured here appeared early on in her series, op.73 on volume 1 (AE 10121) and op.85 on 2 (AE 10171). In price terms, neither set comes cheap, with the Priory discs generally to be had for around 10% less - although shopping around will in most cases iron out the differential.
After the generally slower, softer, more reflective works in volume 6, the three featured here ratchet up the passion, especially in their massive, chromatically dazzling endings. These are among the most imaginative organ works of their time by anyone. Despite their differing structures, they are linked by much more than the year 1910: throughout, Karg-Elert exhibits a Bach-like mastery of counterpoint and a gripping sense of pace, drama and colour, approachable melodies and rhythms spiced up by free-range chromaticism and the odd sortie into virtual atonality. In sum, Karg-Elert's music here should appeal to anyone who appreciates the harmonic language and formal innovation of the likes of Widor, Reger and Vierne, although his style is his own. As for performance, Engels is audibly the right man for the job here - he has the requisite technique, stamina and expressive modesty to do Karg-Elert proud.
Recording quality is very good, with Priory's experience and expertise in this area readily apparent. The impressive 135-stop Seifert organ at the Päpstliche Basilika Sankt Marien at Kevelaer, Germany's most-visited Catholic pilgrimage hub, dates back to the first decade of the 20th century, with repairs and restorations seeing it through a bomb attack in 1945 and a fire in 2002.
Once again, Priory's booklet is a pleasure to read, with a long biography of the composer and as much again on the works heard in volume 7 by Anthony Caldicott, chairman of the Karg-Elert Archive, followed by a detailed description of the organ by Engels, and its full specification. A biography and cheery photo of Engels, plus details of previous releases in the series, make this one of the best CD booklets of the year! The only complaint is about the eye-unfriendly colour scheme: the back inlay tracklist, surprisingly not reprised inside the booklet, uses small white print on a browny-green background.
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The three works here ratchet up the passion, especially in their massive, chromatically dazzling endings.