Having very much enjoyed two recent Tactus discs of organ duets played on Italian organs by Italian organists (review) I was very much looking forward to this release. The results are however much less convincing or enjoyable this time, showing the limitations of the genre.
I can see no objection in principle to organ transcriptions, especially where the work is well known and available in numerous recordings of the original. The fundamental questions are how musically satisfactory the results are and, ideally, whether they add anything to our appreciation of the originals. Here I can only give a negative response to both questions. Partly this is because the original versions of the two main works show their composer’s gifts for orchestration at their best. The arranger can only either ape the original, which will almost always produce a second best, or can attempt to transform it into something wholly new and original, which is more difficult but can produce much greater dividends. In this case the transcriptions, by Alexander Därr, tend to follow the first approach. They certainly require much dexterity from hands and feet but the result does not go beyond reminding the listener of the originals, never taking the music into new worlds. This is not aided by the curious habit of the players of occasionally slowing down in passages where that is not normally expected, presumably for expressive effect but sounding more often - and I am sure wrongly - as though they needed to go cautiously through the more difficult passages. This loss of impetus greatly reduces the impact of the music.
The organ used was built in 2011 by the Italian firm Masioni and is said to have been inspired by the organs of Cavaillé-Coll. It sounds a fine instrument but as played and recorded here it lacks much individual character. For instance I had expected something wholly special to play the titular “Cuckoo in the wood” in one of Saint-Saëns’ loveliest movements, but the somewhat prosaic sounds we hear are a grave disappointment.
The Toccata by Ralf Bölting was written for organ duet and shows the players’ abilities in a better light but is of limited musical interest. Overall this disc demonstrates the limitations of organ transcriptions more than their potential merits.