Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Six Concertos for Two Organs [33:25] ¹
Johann Tobias KREBS (1690-1762) (mistakenly attrib. JS Bach)
Eight Little Preludes and Fugues BWV533-560 [30:56]
E. Power Biggs and Daniel Pinkham¹ (organs)
rec. 1954 and 1955 (Krebs-Bach) and March 1959 (Soler)
There’s a delightful photograph in Barbara Owen’s biography of E. Power Biggs that shows the august British-born organist at the console of his 1958 Flentrop organ, a tracker-actioned instrument. He smiles over his right shoulder, whilst to Biggs’s right the young Daniel Pinkham sits at his Hess organ, an eighteenth century Dutch instrument loaned by a private individual, Charles Fisher, for the recording of the Soler concertos which are to be heard in this disc. It appears that Biggs had long known the concertos, and indeed had gone so far as to record himself on tape playing both organ and harpsichord parts. But it was when he acquired the use of the Flentrop organ that he consented to a commercial recording with Pinkham. You can read the specifications in the biography and can also read how Biggs subsequently tinkered with it, adding so called convertible stops. Organ aficionados will have a field day.
Biggs was a much admired musician and recorded heavily almost to the end of his life. His three-manual Flentrop was installed in Harvard University, where the recording took place. The stereo spatiality works very well in the circumstances, and there was sufficient distance between the two instruments: the LP carried a helpful note, reproduced in this CD’s transfer note, that Biggs is heard on the left channel and Pinkham on the right. Biggs brings all his experience of these works to bear and is well partnered by Pinkham who had been a guest on Biggs’ radio programme. There is great buoyancy and contrasting sonorities throughout, brisk and bright voicings in the A minor Concerto (No.2) and even occasionally some fractious dialogues between the two instruments. Folkloric elements haunt much Spanish music of the period and Soler was no exception; the Minuet finale of No.2 is almost harmonium like in this respect. Whether inclining to more academic workouts or jovially spinning jaunty marches, the performances are admirable. In particular there is the droll aspect of the music, so deftly projected.
When Biggs went on a European tour he made a series of recordings of his performances in various churches using portable equipment he’d shipped over from America. The results were good in the circumstances but clearly pitch instability was a problem and, as Andrew Rose, relates, hum too. He has dealt with these problems, adding reverberation. The music was long thought to be by Bach, indeed given BWV numbers, but it’s now believed that the Eight Little Preludes and Fugues were written by Bach’s student Johann Tobias Krebs. Biggs plays them on the various organs with great dexterity and assurance, unfussy and direct musicianship, devoid of show. He always followed his revered teacher Cunningham in being a truly musical organist, never one given to flashy displays of temperament.
Slightly off the beaten track though this may be, I enjoyed these restorations greatly.
Jonathan Woolf
Organ aficionados will have a field day.