The Britannic Organ: Volume 7 - Welte’s Swiss Organists
Rare Historic Welte Rolls played back on the Britannic Organ
Full track-listing below
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 846 [73:11 + 76:30]

Firstly I have to commend Oehms for their sumptuous gatefold presentation in this, the seventh of their series devoted to The Britannic Organ. The booklet is beautifully produced, and much care has gone into the accompanying information, descriptive text and, not least, the illustrations. As before, this release uses the Welte Philharmonie organ in the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen in Switzerland. It had originally been intended for the SS Britannic, sister ship of the Titanic - hence the name of Oehms series. The unwary might otherwise suppose that these were the pieces heard on a liner crossing in the teens of the century.
The focus of this disc is Swiss organists, and to a degree - and stylistically of some interest - the changing approaches to the performance of early music. Dating rolls is a notoriously tricky business but provisionally the last in the series here can be gauged at around the mid-1920s.
As with pianists on recording rolls, so with organists. The amount of post-editing must clearly have varied but at its ‘worst’ it would have been intensive. The system as a whole is capable of giving an outline of performance but so much has to be taken on trust. Unlike discs of the time which, however badly recorded, were still accurate representations of a performance, rolls are a flawed compromise between performance and editing.
Nevertheless there are interesting performers and certainly some worthwhile repertory to be encountered in this twofer. Franz Joseph Breitenbach plays Marco Bossi’s Festive March with buoyant confidence but very metrically - which must be down to the system. He also offers an intriguing eight-minute Variations on Home Sweet Home composed by Karl Adolf Lorenz - memorable registrations, certainly. The most accomplished piece is Saint-Saëns’ Rhapsodie No.2, fully contrastive and at once both extrovert and intimate. Paul Hindermann’s grand, spacious version of Franck’s Pièce Héroïque was probably captured on roll in 1912 and it may preserve a particular tradition in Franck playing - but then, again, it may preserve the idiosyncrasies of the system and its potential for post-editing. Max Reger was still alive when Hindermann recorded his Ave Maria - delicate and refined - and the organist certainly gives the bell stop a workout during Bach’s Toccata and Fugue; there are some camp moments here.
Karl Matthaei (1897-1960) is an important figure and his performances of early music were highly influential. He had only recently completed his organ studies with Karl Straube in Leipzig when Welte signed him and he began a series of rolls. Even Oehms admits that Bach’s Toccata in F major is heavily edited - though the result is certainly grandiloquent. His quietly thoughtful readings of Sweelinck go some way to suggesting his sensitive musicianship and forward-thinking approach to the repertoire. One advantage of the roll was its potential for length; Scheidt’s Passamezzo lasts a good quarter of an hour - the use of the vox humana is particularly fine. The last organist is Johann Jakob Nater, a much recorded artist and a Welte regular. His forte seems to have been the French school. If, as the notes suggest, his dynamics in Dubois are revealing of his insight into the tradition, just how were they achieved - by the organist, or by the editing team, or collaboratively? He also performs the first three movements of the Guilmant Sonata in C minor - does the finale exist as a roll?
Technically the organ sounds in excellent estate and the production values throughout this release are very high indeed. As noted, much has to be taken on trust, but Oehms is releasing some handsome discs in this continuing series.
Jonathan Woolf 

Reviews of other releases in this series: Volume 4 ~~ Volume 5  
Full track-listing 
CD 1
Marco Enrico BOSSI (1861-1925)
Composizioni, Op. 118: No. 8. Marcia Festiva [4:02]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin; Elsa’s Bridal Procession [8:50]
Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Ten Pieces: No. 8. Scherzo in E Major [4:31]
Karl Adolph LORENZ (1837-1923)
Variations On Home Sweet Home, Op. 72. No. 4 [7:52]
Alphonse Jean Ernest MAILLY (1833-1918)
Solemn March [5:00]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
3 Rapsodies Sur Des Cantiques Bretons, Op. 7: No. 2; Allegro Moderato e Pomposo [7:18]
Franz Joseph Breitenbach (organ)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
3 Pieces For Organ: Pièce Héroïque In B Minor, M. 37 [12:29]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Bénédiction Nuptiale, Op. 9 [7:47]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
12 Pieces, Op. 80: No. 5. Ave Maria In D-Flat Major [6:23]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 [8:55]
Paul Hindermann (organ) 
CD 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue In F Major, BWV 540 [8:42]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Mein Junges Leben Hat Ein End, SWWV 324 [7:32]
Onder Een Linde Groen - Allemande [6:24]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1564)
Passamezzo, SSWV 107 [15:23]
Karl Matthaei (organ)
Théodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
Fiat Lux [4:48]
Chant Pastorale In C Minor [4:08]
Alleluia, "O Filii Et Filiae" [5:06]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Elevation Sur Le Noël Carcassonnais: No.6 Book IV [2:34]
Organ Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 80: Movements 1-3 [21:53]
Johann Jakob Nater (organ) 

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