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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Three Preludes and Fugues Op. 37 (pub. 1837) [12:27]
Andante in D major (1844) [6:01]
Andante in G minor (1833) [1:43]
Sonata No. 2 in C minor, Op. 65 (1839) [9:47]
Andante in F major (1839) [3:24]
Sonata Op. 65 No. 4 in B flat major (pub. 1845) [16:10]
Yuval RABIN (b. 1973)
Hommage à Mendelssohn [10:25]
Yuval Rabin (organ)
rec. 5-6 September 2012, St. Marzellus, Gersau
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 906 1786-6 [74:58]

Mendelssohn’s works for organ are a popular choice, and in particular his six Sonatas Op. 65, which fit neatly onto a single CD. Yuval Rabin brings us a selection of works not particularly gathered together in any particular theme. These are however played on an organ whose original 1813 disposition, restored and reconstructed in 2011 after the usual litany of modifications since its original construction, means that we hear this music on an instrument which would have been the state of the art in Mendelssohn’s time.
 
The opening Prelude in C minor gives us an immediate taste of what is to come, with a finely modulated and lively organ tone supported by terrific pedal notes. The clarity of these is a real treat, no honking vagueness but real notes which reach out and grab you by the tonsils. The Bach-inspired G major Prelude shows the instrument’s softer side, with a gorgeous lyrical sound in which you can bathe luxuriantly. The Andante in D major dates from the period that Mendelssohn was occupied with his Sonatas, and is a pleasantly ruminative set of variations. The miniature Andante in G minor and Andante in F major are equally restrained and reflective, providing contrast for the two sonatas.
 
The Sonata No. 2 in C minor offers more substance, with its unusual Grave opening, rousing third movement and fugal Finale. For comparison I had a listen to Kay Johannsen’s recordings of the Sonatas on the Carus label (see review). This was criticised for its choice of instrument, which delivers a larger and more immediately impressive sound when compared to the 1813 Braun/Mathis organ on this MDG release. With performances reasonably similar and recordings of equally high standard it does indeed come down to what you prefer in terms of organ sound, and there are payoffs in both directions. With the MDG recording the detail of the faster figuration in the opening Allegro con brio of the Sonata No. 4 is more recessed – by no means inaudible, but creating rising fans of well-modulated harmonic colour rather than each note arriving with a more forward balance and greater clarity. The expression of the second movement, Andante religioso is more of a clincher, the refinement in sonority with Yuval Rabin’s older instrument giving a greater sense of atmosphere. One feels one should be appropriately dressed in period costume to appreciate this in the best way. As the booklet remarks, “the organ is an instrument which makes it possible to travel into the past”, and with this recording that is the very experience which makes it that extra bit special.
 
Yuval Rabin concludes his recital with a Homage piece based on improvisations with which he concludes his concerts, creating variations on the Jewish song “Yedid Nefesh” or ‘Dearest Friend’ in Mendelssohn’s idiom. This is very pleasant music and full of invention, enriching our appreciation of the instrument by pushing its boundaries just a little further than in most of the previous pieces, but almost creating a new Mendelssohn ‘Sonata’ in its variations and final Fugue.
 
With MDG’s marvellous 2+2+2 SACD recording this is an organ disc to keep handy, if nothing else as a reminder of what a good organ can sound like. With its nicely chosen selection of Mendelssohn’s deservedly admired works this is an all-round winner.
 
Dominy Clements

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