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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Six Preludes and Fugues Op. 35 (pub. 1837) [52:54]
Three Preludes and Fugues Op. 37 (pub. 1837) [26:25]
Adam Lenart (organ)
rec. 25-26 August 2012, Martin-Luther-Kirche, Detmold

When I picked this out of a review list, admittedly without much due care and attention, I had in mind that it might be a sequel or partner to a disc I looked at not so many weeks ago, played by Yuval Rabin at the excellent Braun/Mathis organ in St. Marzellus, Gersau (see review). These two discs are however unrelated, and one has to wonder at the wisdom of releasing two Mendelssohn organ discs including overlapping repertoire quite so hot on each other’s heels. This recording from Adam Lenart does however carry its own secret - in plain view, if not quite in Plein Jeu.
The organ here is one by the Paschen Company of Kiel from 2007, which finds itself in the neo-Gothic Martin Luther Church in Detmold, completed in 1898. This is a decent enough sounding instrument, though the relatively dry acoustic doesn’t really give its sonorities much of a chance to blend and develop. Comparing this with Yuvan Rabin’s disc in the Three Preludes and Fugues Op. 37 shows how much the character on an instrument is defined by its surroundings. The older instrument has more colour to start with, but the mildly woolly mid and lower range of the modern instrument is not really helped much by the Martin-Luther-Kirche. One can get used to this sound fairly easily and it is in no way really bad, but there are plenty of other instruments which you have to imagine would have been better suited for such a recording.
The USP for this disc is in the Six Preludes and Fugues Op. 35, as they are in fact written for the piano. Adam Lenart has prepared this version for organ, and the booklet notes cite Mendelssohn’s own arrangement for organ four hands of his Piano Fugue in E minor as a precedent. Lenart has kept “strictly to Mendelssohn’s original text”, though of course using the stops, pedals and other advantages of the organ to make these pieces into effective organ works.
The opening Allegro con fuoco prelude is pretty pianistic, but if you think of Widor and other Romantic composers for organ it fits in well with a tradition of increasingly spectacular figuration around uncomplicated melodies. Thus launched, the fugues are equally if not more convincing though this is to be expected, the fugue being in an even longer tradition and already leaning on the examples of Bach and others. Not all of these pieces are ideally set or performed here however. There is a certain amount of bumpiness in the rhythm in, for instance, the second Prelude in D major, and the reed stop used for the melody sounds a bit like a naff melodica. One has to expect changes in flexibility and approach between the more fleet touch you can obtain with a piano, and while most of these pieces create some fascinating new angles on these pieces, the results will have pianists either looking up from their cups of coffee in interest or spilling them in shock and horror. If you don’t know or play these pieces much then the effect us more that of ‘new organ music from Mendelssohn’ rather than enhanced/tortured piano repertoire, depending on the state of your coffee cup. I suspect most pianists will not want to embrace this organ version, but if you already like the Organ Sonatas and the Preludes and Fugues Op. 37 then this arrangement by and large does manage to reinvent the Preludes and Fugues Op. 35.
As usual, we just have to ditch our prejudices and enjoy what’s on offer. MDG’s recording is very good in the circumstances, though the SACD surround effect is not a revelatory advantage when it comes to the sound of the organ, which is alas not what I would call ‘demonstration’ quality.
Dominy Clements