This seems to have been missed when it was released in 2013 and I almost missed it again this year. I have two reasons for this rather belated review: first it’s something quite different from all the over-worked albums of the same old same old. Don’t misunderstand: I love all the familiar Christmas music but the market is becoming overstocked. Did we need another John Rutter Christmas special – review
– for example? I’ve reviewed and greatly enjoyed the two Christmas albums on his own Collegium label (COLCD133, CSCD512) and CSCD306 which combines the two and, much earlier, on Warner/EMI 9469472, 2 CDs. I’m sure the latest offering, much plugged on Classic FM, is equally enjoyable.
Secondly, you’ll find this advertised as ‘organ playing in the finest South Bavarian tradition’ and I’m happy to endorse that claim. I haven’t come across Norbert Düchtel before but he has made a small number of recordings for TYXArt, Ars Musici and Rondeau. He plays the music here with an appropriate lightness of touch on a two-manual-plus-pedals organ built in 2010 on the lines of an eighteenth-century instrument. It's just right for music from the Baroque and Romantic eras, allowing the listener, again to quote the publicity material, ‘to experience the full tonal variety of the instrument in sophisticated and sensitive interpretations’.
The full specification, the registration for each individual piece and several photographs of the instrument are included in the booklet. There’s no 32’ stop and the 16’ pedal stop is employed sparingly. There’s an essay by Hermann Mathis the organ builder on how, with the co-operation of Professor Düchtel, he has attempted to come as close as possible to the organ which Johann Konrad Funtsch built for this Bavarian church in 1776, replacing an earlier instrument built by his father. It may seem inappropriate to perform Bach on a South German organ but JSB can sound well on such organs with appropriate registration and such is the case here, too.
I’ve already mentioned the likelihood that listeners will find the music here unfamiliar. At first the Christmas connection may seem obscure: even German speakers are unlikely to recognise the underlying tunes of other than Bach’s In dulci jubilo
, Sattler’s Es ist ein Ros’ entrsprugen
and Geist’s Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her
. The last of these, which is receiving its world premiere recording, rounds off the programme in rousing style.
The other pieces are pastoral in character and those by Königsperger and Grünberger are contemporary with Funtsch the organ builder. The concept of pastoral music at Christmas stems from the shepherds (Latin pastores
) who are recorded as witnessing the Nativity, the birth of him who was destined himself to be known as the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd (Bonus Pastor
). There’s nothing quite so overtly shepherd-like as the slow movements of the ‘Christmas’ concertos by the likes of Corelli (Op.6/8) which imitate the music of bagpipes, instruments associated with shepherds. However, there is plenty of beautiful music here for relaxation after the hectic Christmas round which has become part of Western society.
It’s not just the music that serves to remind us of the simpler attitude of an earlier age. There’s a photograph in the booklet of a beautifully simple little plaque, presumably from the church where the recording was made. It shows the Father and Holy Spirit above Mary and Joseph leading the young Jesus with the inscription Anno : 1687 : Hatt Gott zu Ehren Georg Ernstbeck dise figu[r]e machen
lassen – In the year 1687 Georg Ernstbeck had this picture made to the glory of God.
Apart from Bach and Rheinberger even the names of the composers are likely to be unfamiliar but there’s plenty of helpful information about them in the booklet.
The recording is good in mp3 and excellent in 24/96 format, so it’s safe to assume that the CD, which falls between the two in quality, will also sound very fine. Eclassical.com’s price for the 24-bit, $16.32, is competitive with what you are likely to pay for the CD; at $10.88 the mp3 and 16-bit even more so.
I’ve mentioned favourably several other recordings of Christmas music with a difference this year already, on the main MusicWeb International pages and in Download News 2014/13
. This new organ recording is by no means the least among them.