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Organum Antiquum - Earliest Organ Music until J.S. Bach
see end of review for details
Helga Schauerte (organ)
rec. September 2012, Oelinghausen Minster, Arnsberg (Westphalia), Germany. DDD
SYRIUS SYR 141459 [71:13]

The title of this disc is not very informative. It suggests that there is a kind of thread: a musical development which leads to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. That is only true, to a certain extent, in the second half of the programme. The latter is devoted to the way German composers of the 17th century treated the well-known Lutheran hymn Vater unser - a rhymed translation of Pater noster - culminating in two arrangements by Bach. In fact, this disc is, first and foremost, a portrait of an historical organ.
The convent at Oelinghausen in Arnsberg (Westphalia) was founded in 1174 by the order of the Premontarians. There is documentary evidence of an organ in the minster in 1390. It seems that it had a second organ which probably was replaced by a new instrument in 1499. Both instruments were destroyed during religious conflicts in the 1580s. In 1599 new organs were built, a small instrument and a large organ with one manual and a pull-down pedal. The present organ is the one which was built between 1714 and 1717, in which some of the material of the 1599 instruments was incorporated. In later years some rebuilding took place which was largely rectified during the last restoration from 1999 to 2002. Some of the pipework dates from the organs of the Gothic era. The organ has two manuals (Hauptwerk and Brustpositiv) and a pedal. The pitch is a=470,8 Hz, the tuning is "modified meantone".
The effect of this history immediately makes itself felt in the Toccata in e minor by Pachelbel which opens the programme. Composers of the 16th and 17th century made use of this kind of tuning to create harmonic tension for expressive reasons. This explains why organ music of the renaissance and baroque can sound rather dull on instruments in equal temperament. Helga Schauerte has selected several pieces which date from the time of the pre-1599 organs, in order to pay tribute to these instruments. It is music which was mostly not specifically intended for the organ or, as in the case of the two pavanes by Milan and the two dances by Neusidler, not at all. If they had been written for the organ at all, it seems unlikely that they would have been played on a large organ like the instrument in this minster. The dances from the Robertsbridge Codex are a bit too slow which is inevitable considering the church's acoustic. These are all nice pieces, but I would have preferred compositions which were specifically intended for a larger church organ.
Fortunately that is the case with the anonymous Canzon para la Corneta con el Eco which, as its title suggests, was written by a Spanish composer. Originally conceived for an instrument with a split manual it requires a double-manual organ in order to realise the echo. Although the characteristics of this organ are not comparable to Spanish instruments this piece works quite well. Nicolaus Bruhns is more at home here, and Ms Schauerte gives a good performance of his Prelude in e minor. It’s the 'little' prelude in this key; Bruhns also composed a larger piece in E minor.
The rest of the programme centres around Vater unser, one of the best-known hymns in Lutheran Germany, whose melody has been used by many composers and which is still sung in Germany and has found its way into other countries as well. The cycle begins with a relatively simple arrangement by Caspar Othmayr, one of the earliest composers who arranged Lutheran hymns. Next come an anonymous arrangement, a harmonization by Joachim Decker and a Ricercar by another unknown master, which is also based on this hymn. The largest and most sophisticated piece is the series of variations by Jacob Praetorius, a member of a family of organists in Northern Germany and an early representative of what is now known as the 'North-German organ school'. It reflects the great skill and gives a good idea of the standard of organ playing in northern Germany. Organists were held in high esteem and ranked among the highest paid musicians of their time. One has to imagine that a piece like this finds its origins in improvisation as that was the main skill expected from an organist. Its seven parts correspond to the seven stanzas of the hymn. The first and last are extended settings of the chorale which reflect the motet style of the 16th century. In several of the variations the chorale melody is highly ornamented, for instance in the 5th verse, where the pedal part shows the high standard of pedal playing in the region.
Georg Böhm's arrangement belongs to the most famous organ pieces of the German baroque and has a lightness and almost dance-like character which shows Böhm being influenced by the French style. The disc ends with a short arrangement by Telemann, whose organ works are barely known, and two arrangements by Bach. To that Ms Schauerte has added the setting of one of the stanzas of Vater unser from the St John Passion.
Although I am not happy in every respect with the choice of repertoire this is a most interesting collection. Firstly, the history and features of the organ make it worthwhile being documented on disc. The second part of the programme is especially satisfying, not only because of the quality of the music but also on account of the fine performances. The chorale arrangements offer the opportunity to demonstrate the various registers of the organ. Only in the 5th verse of Praetorius' variations does the pedal is almost overpower the manual; otherwise the registration is convincing. Ms Schauerte is a stylish interpreter who is well aware of the requirements of this kind of repertoire. The recording is excellent.
The booklet includes information about the history of the convent and the organ. Ms Schauerte gives a general overview, but the documentation of the repertoire is rather poor. The correct titles of the various pieces on the Vater unser hymn are not given, years of birth and death of the composers or any information about them are omitted. The disposition of the organ is given, but the registrations of the organ pieces are not mentioned.
Even so, for organ aficionados this disc is an interesting proposition which will enrich their collection.
Johan van Veen  

Track listing
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Toccata in e minor [1:58]
Retrove (Robertsbridge Codex) [3:55]
Estampie (Robertsbridge Codex) [4:24]
Upon la mi re [2:25]
Hugh ASTON (c.1485-1558)
A Hornepype [3:06]
Hans NEUSIDLER (c.1508/09-1563)
Der Zeuner Tantz [0:51]
Judentantz [0:50]
August NÖRMIGER (c.1560-1613)
Witwen Mummerey Tantz [0:45]
Der Mohren Aufzugkh [0:51]
Regina Clara IM HOFF (?-?)
Bassa Imperiale (Clavierbuch, 1629) [0:59]
Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)
Canzon V. toni [2:13]
Canzon [3:39]
Luys MILÁN (c.1500-after 1560)
Pavanes 1 & 2 [1:48]
Canzon para la Corneta con el Eco [4:31]
Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697)
Prelude in e minor [4:56]
Caspar OTHMAYR (1515-1553)
Vater unser im Himmelreich [1:18]
Vater unser im Himmelreich [2:19]
Joachim DECKER (1565?-1611)
Vater unser im Himmelreich, chorale setting [1:12]
Ricercar 1.toni on Vater unser im Himmelreich [3:13]
Jacob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651)
Vater unser im Himmelreich, chorale variations [14:02]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Vater unser im Himmelreich (BuxWV 219) [2:07]
Georg BÖHM (1661-1733)
Vater unser im Himmelreich [3:35]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Vater unser im Himmelreich [1:03]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St John Passion (BWV 245): Dein Will gescheh [1:01]
Vater unser im Himmelreich (BWV 636) (Orgelbüchlein) [1:45]
Vater unser im Himmelreich (BWV 737) [2:14]