Georg Friederich HÄNDEL (1685-1759) Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon HWV 67) [3:53]
Concerto in C Major (from Saul HWV 53) for organ and orchestra [8:44]
Concerto in D major Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV351
for organ [18:07] Saul, King of Israel HWV 53:-
Suite No. 1 Halleluja [14:32]
Suite No. 2 Carillon [16:27]
Suite No. 3 Resurrection [17:48]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
Münchener Bach-Orchester/Hansjörg Albrecht (organ)
rec. 2014, Marktkirche Halle; Himmefahrtskirche München-Sendling. OEHMS CLASSICS OC1821 [79:15]
Martin Schmeding is a name which will always alert me to interesting goings-on when it comes to organ music, especially after some remarkable recordings from the Cybele label in the music of Tilo Medek, Johann Sebastian Bach and Max Reger. Hansjörg Albrecht takes the honours in the pieces for organ solo in this programme. The idea behind this intriguing Handel programme stems from the period in that composer’s career when he was forced by circumstance to move away from opera towards theatrical oratorios. Handel’s skill at the keyboard also meant that his performances were much in demand, and his organ concertos were useful vehicles, but Hansjörg Albrecht’s booklet notes for this release outline in some detail the improvisations and nature of the organ’s involvement in Handel’s oratorios. The opulent orchestration of Saul was an inspiration for assembling ‘new’ organ concertos, and these pieces are richly supplemented with other transcriptions both with solo organ and orchestral accompaniment.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba forms a useful opening, though with the recorded balance perhaps set up not to be too great a contrast with the balance for organ with orchestra the solo instrument does sound a bit generalised and distant. This is however a spirited performance with some zippy little improvisatory inflections, so a recreation of the spirit of Handel’s playing is the promising prospect. The first Concerto in C major taken from Saul follows the standard three movement pattern with two lively Allegro movements surrounding an expressive Larghetto. This is all great fun, and the performance is excellent, but with the organ still rather ‘small’ in relation to the orchestra this still comes across as more of an orchestral concerto-type work with organ obbligato, rather than the distinctive theme-led function of the soloist in the concertos proper. This can be felt as frustrating, but if we ditch the ‘concerto’ appellation and just enjoy this as a sort of ‘instrumental-highlights-from’ then we can just sit back and enjoy Handel for his excellent music.
Music for the Royal Fireworks is a transcription for organ solo by Hansjörg Albrecht and it works very well. Contrast between stops and a useful swell function in the Schuke-Sauer organ in the Marktkirche make for appropriate approximations of orchestral variety, and short of setting off fireworks in the church the Ouverture is spectacular enough. The expressive lyricism of gentler movements such as La Paix is particularly fine here, and there is some rattlingly deep pedal work in La Rejouissance. All in all this is as fine a version of this piece for organ as one could wish for.
It will depend a little on where you stand with the original oratorio as to whether the Suites from Saul represent ‘new’ concerto type works or more a sequence of movements somewhat out of context. The title ‘suite’ is certainly more appropriate, and at the very least these assemblages represent superbly played highlights from the original. Hansjörg Albrecht justifies these as concertante organ works as Handel’s 16 authentic organ concertos only use oboes, bassoons, strings and basso continuo, dispensing “with the final stage of baroque splendour that can be produced with trumpets and tympani.” This once again is indeed true, but the interaction between orchestra and organ here is weighed rather too heavily against the organ to deliver really convincing ‘concertos’.
That said these are glorious musical collections, and there is much in which to revel and enjoy. The massed orchestral sound is very good, and I would much rather take the balance with the organ as it is over anything that hinted at its artificial boosting just to emphasise the premise of the programme – if anything, this is for a large part an organ CD for those who aren’t that keen on the organ. Quieter movements are very well turned, such as the celesta added to Carillon Suite, and the fun Trio: Ardito in the same suite with its duo of damped harpsichord and banjo-like baroque guitar. You may miss the vocal element in this music, but anyone less familiar with Saul would be more likely to be enthused to seek out the original from this, such is the excellence of the music on offer here. The third Resurrection suite is full of terrific things, from the intense opening Largo assai through real dramas in the tortured strings of the following Largo, the funereal Marcia and effusively angular Finale. All in all, this is indeed a Grand Musical Entertainment.