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Max REGER (1873–1916)
Introduktion und Passacaglia [8:04]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637–1707)
Passacaglia in D minor BuxWV161 [6:42]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809–1847)
Passacaglia in C minor (1823) [6:38]
François COUPERIN (1668–1733)
Pièces de Clavecin, Second Livre, Huitième Ordre Rondeau – Passacaille [7:14]
Jan WELMERS (b.1937)
Passacaglia (1965) [6:14]
Johann Kaspar KERLL (1627–1693)
Passacaglia in D minor [7:27]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District Op.29 [6:38]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV582 [15:17]
Matthias Havinga (organ)
rec. 16-17 September 2010, Kotka Church, Finland

The simple form of the passacaglia has proved to be a robust and alluring musical foundation. The form of the passacaglia, variations over a repeated bass line, seems to be especially well suited to the organ with its ability to sustain. It is no surprise then that it has therefore provided inspiration to many composers over the centuries.
The pieces chosen here span the centuries from the 17th to the 20th. The CD’s booklet notes are incredibly helpful. They describe in detail how each composer used the form and made it his own. There are even notated examples, yet the language remains user-friendly. This provides an accessible tool for getting to know quite complex yet enjoyable works in depth in the comfort of your own living room.
Havinga describes how he wanted to show the development of the passacaglia form and cites the four oldest works as prototypes for the later ones. This view could be slightly misleading. Of the pre-1800 works, the Kerll, Buxtehude and Bach can be linked. The Couperin stands out as not using the form in the same way. The other works - except possibly the piece by Welmers – certainly bear the influence of early types.
This is a very enjoyable disc with a surprising variety across the piece. The opening work, Reger’s oft-played Introduction and Passacaglia is dramatic and forceful. The organ is really put through its paces by the young Dutchman. This piece is very demanding and Havinga’s technique is flawless; the runs are effortlessly executed. The passacaglia itself builds in intensity from the outset.
The now familiar yet still jarring sound-world of Shostakovich is actually my favourite here. This music, transcribed from the opera, is dark and bitter. Often bitonal - two different keys played at the same time - it is wholly unsettling. Havinga’s orchestral registration adds to the tension as the music builds and finally dies away.
Worth a mention is the minimalist work by Dutch composer Jan Welmers. Its eerieness won’t be to everyone’s taste. Sustained sounds are interspersed with random-sounding flourishes using unusual organ sounds. Part of the appeal of the passacaglia form is the audible structure. In contrast, this piece makes that element difficult to hear and therefore less audience-friendly.

No recording entitled “Passacaglia” could be complete without Bach’s great work. The passacaglia itself is often heard performed with each variation getting louder as they become more complex. Havinga elects to perform it all “organo pleno” – a full organ sound with a loud reed-stop spelling out the theme in the pedal. This gives it an especially dramatic opening. The fugue subject is based on the passacaglia theme. In this performance it follows directly on from the passacaglia with no slowing down between the two movements and no change in sound. This interpretation was chosen because the fugue can essentially be seen as another variation on the same theme. No change in sound for the full 15 minutes is too long and selected variations of the passacaglia could with advantage have been selected for quieter registration. Other than this, the performance is commanding and authoritative.
This is an exceptional set of works performed by a young organist with outstanding skill. What better way to spend the evening than this?
Hannah Parry-Ridout